Opinion: Check out more than books from your local library

Aiden Khazeni/The Occidental

I grew up with a library card. Ever since I was a child, my mother took me to the library during my free time. I think lots of people can say that, but it may not be as significant of an activity to remember from your childhood compared to sports or music lessons. I find that many people my age and younger don’t remember sitting nestled in between the shelves of their public library or perusing the assortment of magazines near the newsstand as fondly as I do. As a college student, I now have the privilege of reflecting and looking back on the resources I so fortunately had available to me as a child — all provided to me by the libraries that honed my appreciation and interest towards literature and the world around me.

However, in-person library usage has decreased significantly because of the online digitization of many library services: from preserving literature to offering stacks of books to search and borrow. This isn’t even considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, when libraries closed and were only accessible through e-visits, which increased by 18 percent. Although others may have had little interest in libraries, I was disappointed when I had to quarantine starting back in March 2020 and couldn’t visit any, not even the one at my high school. Libraries have always been a sanctuary and a place of comfort for me. They are quiet places for me to get work done with countless resources and support systems — always found in close proximity.

Many people might think that libraries are simply lifeless, old buildings with books that are falling apart as they are being eaten away by our modern, digitally dependent age. They do not realize the sheer magnitude and abundance of services that libraries provide  the majority of them for free. Libraries offer both technology and staff support to access the outside world. Not only is Wi-Fi provided, but also desktop computers and librarians who are able to assist in accessing the internet. They provide meeting space for classes and events, many of them being community, nonprofit or government-sponsored programs. From providing English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to registering to vote, libraries host events that encourage community engagement and collectivity. All these abundant resources don’t even touch on what libraries are traditionally known for — borrowing books. Libraries now also rent out technology and electronic materials to accommodate the demand for digitized versions. All of these aspects encapsulate the scope of the importance of libraries.

For me, libraries have always had a sparkle and sense of home walking into them. The community I have found and the relationships that can be built in libraries are immeasurably valuable if you are brave enough to pursue them. I remember strolling into my elementary school’s library every week to check out books for the week and to sit and soak in what was happening, all while being surrounded by bookshelves. Everything from picture books to my first chapter book, I read them all by the small, modest librarian’s desk. The librarian knew all the students by name and made sure we knew about every library event occurring on campus, such as guest speakers or book fairs. The constant interaction with library resources and personnel during my childhood helped me build trust and excitement in the services they offered.

As I progressed through middle and high school, I began to notice that not everyone viewed libraries as a beacon of knowledge and space of comfort, but as a place that was slow-moving and too academic. That’s just the way it was — if you went to the library, not even necessarily for fun, you were looked at weirdly. I never let being called a nerd or studious get in the way of taking advantage of everything that libraries had to offer. I went often so I wouldn’t miss out on visiting authors or being the first to check out new titles. It’s not easy to maintain constant library-going, but by deliberately seeking out opportunities and inquiring about what my library could provide, I developed into a globally aware learner and a lover of all different genres and styles of writing — all because of the ownership that I took over my learning.

Now here at Oxy, my intentions at the library are the same as the ones I had growing up — get to know the library staff, seek out opportunities and don’t be embarrassed about proudly stating, “I love going to the library.” I find their technology renting program so valuable — they have countless items, such as camera lenses, that I would not have the opportunity to try out otherwise. Honestly, booking a session with a writing advisor at the Writing Center will possibly save your essay. It doesn’t matter how embarrassing it might feel to ask for help with something as vulnerable as your writing, but everyone benefits from a second pair of eyes. Even if trudging through the dusty stacks isn’t your cup of tea, you can surf the list of online databases the library subscribes to and even book free research consultations to help with any of your research needs. No, I am not getting paid to advertise this information. All of this is to bring attention to the number of services you have right at your fingertips — you just need to take advantage of them. So many resources at Oxy’s library are absolutely free — you just have to scout them out!

Why has the in-person library experience lost its magic? There’s something special about having a multifunctional space that is focused on encouraging the love of learning and knowledge at your disposal. It’s humbling to recognize that so much can come out of one space, but very few take advantage of everything. Students need to take charge of their library habits and explore what they have to offer. With such a wide range of opportunities, assistance and resources, libraries aren’t going extinct anytime soon.

People are going to have access to libraries regardless of how advanced digital technology gets. Libraries provide security and help increase understanding of this crazy world. So, get up and walk to the library. Read the posters on the wall, talk to the staff and frolic in the stacks. Get familiar with the place that gives so much.