On the evening of Saturday, December 1st, the third annual Christmas Carol Celebration at Malvern Public Library drew a large crowd of both listeners and storytellers - nearly 60 people altogether - and those three hours were easily the highlight of my year for all of the warmth and cheer they delivered. There was something so magical about the feeling of anticipation that came from gathering together in close quarters to usher in the spirit of the season in the midst of that unexpected snowstorm. The caroling, the music, laughter and occasional happy tears found in the sharing of memories from Christmases long ago - all of these gave the library such a warm and comforting glow.
As always, Michael Formhals did an excellent job filling his role as Malvern’s expert on all things “Charles Dickens”. Drawing connections between some of today’s most beloved classic Christmas stories like How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and A Christmas Carol on their shared themes of redemption made for some thoughtful pause, and by the time everyone lined up to sample the Formhals’ delicious homemade figgy pudding at evening’s end, it was clear to me that the contagious Christmas spirit had leapt straight out of the pages of Dickens’ world and found its way into the heart of every man, woman and child present within this old library’s walls.
Libraries are just a place to check out books and hop onto the Internet. Right?
This is the one question I have received more than any other in my past three years as Library Director here at our library. It is a question that leaves me wanting to say so much that it is hard for me to even know where to begin.
My intent is not to set out to dismiss the great merit in having the right to go to the library and check out a book or use the Internet. Both of these things are vitally important to what the library is and all that it stands for. Having grown up with my dim understanding of the library’s purpose in my life made it quite simply just that: a place for me to check out books and use the Internet. I can remember those four walls and all they encompassed when it was just the old Carnegie building with its many books, audio tapes, small computer station and that old portrait of Andrew Carnegie looking down over everything with that solemn expression that seemed to say, "Yes, I see you”. I recall those all too familiar faces of the kindly librarians who felt as much a part of the library as the books were a part of those old wooden shelves. Today, I am able to look back at my youth with a deepened sense of appreciation for what it was the library actually provided to me.
As a child, the library was a place of refuge from the stark contrast of reality. Here was a world I could dream in, a place that teemed with some of my favorite characters, imagined or not. The vast and far-reaching world with all its inherent possibilities suddenly became accessible to me with the mere turn of a page or the click of a mouse. I could complete my after-school homework on the computer or just as easily find a cozy spot with a good book in hand to keep myself entertained for hours. In many ways, the library was a cornerstone of my youth. It became a tool not only for my learning and literary prowess but fostered that innate need for a sense of security in what often felt like an overwhelming and sometimes frightening world. Without the presence of our library and all it had to offer to me in my childhood years, I truly feel that a great void would have been left unfilled.
Each time a young person enters this library that has been entrusted to me as its caretaker, I am reminded of that feeling. Over the years I learned feeling that sense of security, the need for belonging, never quite goes away. If anything, it deepens over time. What I have come to recognize in my role as Library Director is that the library offers all of us a sense of togetherness, no matter what our educational background, gender, age, income level or any other demographic I failed to mention here. Fundamentally, we all crave and need one thing as human beings: community.
From my perspective, community means that everyone is included and made to feel welcome, no strings attached. In a public institution like the library, this is reflected in its legalistic emphasis on provision of services, programming and resources to every person who comes through the door. These elements are crucial to the preservation of the integrity of what the library represents and fundamentally is. On a more interpersonal level, I continually witness how the atmosphere of this library comes to life and takes on the very shape and form of the many people who populate its corridors. Everyone has something to contribute and does so by the very act of showing up.
These library services are provided by and for the taxpayer. The need to learn, to be informed, to be educated, to share and to have the means to connect to those all too necessary external resources in the search for employment, education or whatever else it may be is met in an environment unimpeded by the expectation of having to pay for the services rendered or the increasingly rampant threat of censorship. Whether it is a social worker with one of their clients using the library as a quiet space for their meetings, a teacher tutoring a struggling student after hours, a group of kids and seniors learning a foreign language together with their crazy librarian, someone applying for a job online or a solitary soul who seeks escapism in the form of a book, this library not only embodies the very spirit of our community but provides a necessary space for it in which to share, to inspire, to learn, to connect -- to be.
No bars held -- no strings attached!
So you see, coming to the library to check out a book is far more than just an archaic practice belonging to a supposedly dying institution. Quite the contrary! To utilize any service provided in the library becomes an act of individuation, a show of sovereignty in a free society that has made the library an institutional icon for all people in their pursuit of higher learning and connection, for and by the community. For me, the library represents all that we are as well as the rich possibility of all we can become. While libraries stand as one of the oldest democratic bodies in the history of the civilized world, new life is continually being breathed into them by the people who shape and mold them with their ideas, their creativity and that inherent desire to connect with others. I truly feel that the 21st century will continue to bring about many exciting changes for libraries as a whole, and I am all the more thrilled to be entrusted with this role as curator of the Malvern Public Library. Thank you for allowing me the great privilege of working to provide the services and programs needed by our community, and most of all, thank you for showing up.
Calling all volunteers!
Gardeners needed for every season - Weeding, Watering, Beautifying!
Three plots are available for adoption! Weed barrier and mulch to be provided in the spring.
Benefits included: Receive a free book of your choosing for every work day; Recognition in the Press & on Social Media; Free Hot Cup of Coffee every Monday through Friday.
Sign up in the library today!
A CHRISTMAS CAROL CELEBRATION:
DECEMBER 1st @ 4:30 – 6:30 PM
Caroling - Holiday Memories - Victorian Costume Party
Join us for Caroling and Come Dressed in your Victorian Best (optional)!
Explore Charles Dickens’ most iconic work with local historian, Michael Formhals!
All ages admitted - Free Egg Nog & Christmas Pudding for all!
As Library Director here at our Malvern Public Library, you can count on me for all the latest on books, events, programs & more!