This poem by Joseph Mills sent shivers up my spine when I read it. We’re delighted to share “If Librarians Were Honest” with you today.

Click image to view entire poem.

Regarding libraries, Joe writes,

“If Librarians Were Honest” appears in Joseph Mills’ new collection of poetry, “Sending Christmas Cards to Huck and Hamlet” (Press 53, 2012).

I take my six year old son to the library to get his first card.  As we pull a bunch of books, movies, and cds from the shelves, he becomes increasingly concerned and finally says, “Daddy, we can’t afford all of these.”  I explain, “They’ll let us take them.  For free.”  His expression turns to amazement as if he can’t believe this is true.  When I explain, “But we have to take care of them, and we have to bring them back,” he nods and says, “That’s fair.”

I know how my son feels.  Forty years after getting my own first card (at the Shawnee Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana), I still feel a sense of amazement at having access to so many materials.  It is almost, as Vizzini says in The Princess Bride, “inconceivable.”  Wait, you’re going to let me take home anything in here?  For free?  What’s the catch?

Lending libraries are beautiful in their basic ideals.  In enabling people to educate themselves, they are the most empowering and humanistic of institutions.

In a very real way, libraries have shaped who I am, so perhaps it’s not surprising that when I gave my wife a tour of places where I grew up, it turned out to be, in part, a tour of libraries. Some of these were run down.  Some no longer existed.  None of them were architectural wonders.  Yet I loved each one because when I walked in I felt a sense of possibility.

I still feel it.

When I move to a new place, something I’ve done dozens of times, one of the first things I do is get a library card.  It makes me feel both more rooted and as if I’ve secured a type of life-line.

While I’m grateful for any library where I live, what is my ideal one?

My ideal library is open whenever I want to go.  Mornings.  Evenings.  Any day of the week.

My ideal library is easy to get to.  I can walk or ride a bike.

Whatever book I think of, my ideal library has it.  More importantly, it has books that I may not think of, but still should read.

I can browse all the stacks and storage areas of my ideal library and make discoveries.  (And the stacks are well-lit and spacious.)

My ideal library has comfortable places to read, windows that let in natural light, and good non-florescent lighting as well.

My ideal library is staffed by people who respect my privacy, leave me alone to explore, and yet also suggest books that end up being important to me.

My ideal library hasn’t been given to the community by a wealthy donor, but is of the community and is the community.

When I walk into my ideal library, it feels like optimism and hope.  It simultaneously offers a sense of adventure and safety.  And it instills in both six year olds and forty-six year olds a sense of amazement.

Joseph Mills is an educator and poet. He is on the faculty at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. His most recent book of poetry, Sending Christmas Cards to Huck and Hamlet, was published by Press 53 in March 2012. Learn more at the author’s website.

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