Yesterday during lunch and after work I stopped by 14 Hours, 14 Branches: A Read-In to Save Oakland Libraries, which featured Oakland residents who don’t want to see libraries closed (including many famous authors) reading in 15 minute intervals from 6am-8pm in the Frank Ogawa Plaza amphitheater. I knew I would enjoy the read-in, but I had no idea how much it would inspire me and bring back so many fond memories of books and libraries.
I have to admit that outside of the context of continuing and threatened budget cuts to libraries, the impacts of these cuts, and the excitement of the 81st Avenue library opening, I haven’t thought much about libraries in the past few years. In fact, I have a sad and somewhat embarrassing secret to admit.
In 2010, I read thousands of blog posts, hundreds of newspaper articles, dozens of magazines cover to cover, and I probably wrote enough to fill a small book here on my blog. But what I did not manage to do last year was to read an entire book. I started maybe three books, and nearly finished one, but I never made it to the end. And I was sure that by halfway through 2011, I would have done at least better than last year, but I haven’t. I still have not finished a book!
For some people, this might be no big deal. But for me, it’s disturbing, since I have such a deep love for books, stories, and reading. Yet somehow I had forgotten this love and was not fully reminded of it until this evening, listening to Jennifer Holm, Frank Portman, Dashka Slater, and Mac Barnett read the incredible stories they had written.
As I walked home, a flood of memories filled my head.
In elementary school, our teachers assigned us summer reading, instructing us to choose a few books from a long list. I often read double the amount required and then read some of the books my older sister was reading for her class. My mom would take me to the library frequently for both of us to check out books. I remember the plastic that covered the books I checked out and how careful I was carrying them home and reading them. Around third grade, I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, and I guess in a way that dream has come true.
When I got to high school, books were my best friends. I had been at a small private school all my life and now was at a Los Angeles public school with thousands of students. It was totally overwhelming so I buried myself in books for the first several months. I read every book I could get my hands on, again including my sister’s books, a bunch of Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe, and some philosophy books I found lying around the house. Until I figured out how to navigate high school social life, books were what kept me happy.
In college, I read a lot less fiction but probably read more than a hundred books and many more articles and excerpts in those four years. I found myself spending more time at the library than at home. I remember getting lost in the main library, roaming through bookshelf after bookshelf, turning the gears on the movable stacks to get to the books I sought.
The first time I discovered the psychology library on campus, I got so engrossed in reading that I missed class. I did the same thing when I discovered the anthropology library.
I didn’t just use the library for reading though. In my junior year, my computer basically died so at the end of each semester I spent hours every day in the library’s basement computer lab, typing papers. During finals weeks, the library was open 24 hours a day, and though I never stayed all night, I remember typing away until 2 or 3am many nights.
But then I graduated college. I still read, but more and more of my time was consumed by work and advocacy. Besides writing emails, I had basically stopped writing entirely, which bothered me. So I started this blog, as a place to share my stories. But I never found a parallel solution to get me reading again like I used to. So I’d read fewer and fewer books every year, and basically no fiction. My wife saved me from 2007-2009 by introducing me to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and the Harry Potter series – it was impossible not to read those books rapidly. But save for those books, I barely read, which is how I managed to make it through 2010 without reading any complete books.
It’s as if I was under a curse, but I feel that last night’s reading lifted the curse. I’m more inspired than I’ve been in years to read. I’m going to start off by finishing the book I nearly finished last year (which still sits next to my bed as if I’ll pick it up any day), Novella Carpenter’s Farm City. Then, I’m going to go down to the library to check out some of the books I heard read last night.
I realized something last night. For so many years I’ve been taking books and libraries for granted, as if they’d always be easily accessible. Libraries and books have always been such an integral part of my life that I never imagined them being taken away.
Hopefully the City Council will make the right decisions tonight and in the future to keep libraries open, but I can’t count on that. As long as we still have so many wonderful libraries with dedicated staff who continue to provide services for the public despite scarce and dwindling resources, I should appreciate and use these resources.
To show your support for Oakland libraries, come to the Oakland City Council meeting tonight, Tuesday, June 21st to speak against the proposed closures of 14 of the 18 branches. The non-consent calendar part of the meeting starts at 6:30pm in the Council Chambers in City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza.
Can’t make it tonight? Contact the Council and tell them how important libraries are to you and get involved with Save Oakland Libraries. Here is the contact info for the Council:
Rebecca Kaplan, At-Large
RKaplan@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7008
Council President Jane Brunner, District 1
JBrunner@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7001
Patricia Kernighan, District 2
PKernighan@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7002
Nancy Nadel, District 3
NNadel@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7003
Libby Schaaf, District 4
LSchaaf@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7004
Ignacio De La Fuente, District 5
IDeLaFuente@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7005
Desley Brooks, District 6
DBrooks@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7006
Larry Reid, District 7
LReid@oaklandnet.com or 510-238-7007