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Am I the only one who forgot about the public library?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only recently discovered the wonders of the library that is a mere five minutes from my house.  Well, technically, I should say “rediscovered,” because as a child I practically lived at the library—though not the one five minutes from my house.

You’d think a book lover like myself would have spent much of their adult life appreciating the library. But somewhere between childhood and now (a very long time, trust me) I forgot about libraries. During my “higher education” years, the library was about studying for finals, or checking out the studious guys rather than the books. Or maybe it was the advent of those mega bookstores that have a library-ish feeling about them— I was unwittingly getting a library “fix” while roaming the aisles shopping for books.  Whatever the reason, I hadn’t set foot in a genuine public library for an appallingly long time, until quite recently, when I wandered into my local branch.

Now, since I’m in confession mode, I admit I wasn’t even looking for a book when I went to the library.  I had overheard someone in the grocery store say they had watched all the back episodes of Mad Men — which was also on my to-do list — and she was returning the DVDs to the library. My ears perked up. I’m on a budget, so watching entire seasons of cable television shows for free is a very appealing notion. So, I walked into my local library, and it felt like coming home.

And now, sometimes I don’t even have to leave home to take advantage of the library! Did you know these days you can go online to request books, movies, TV shows, music, etc., and they magically appear on the “holds” shelf shortly thereafter?  Amazing!  Another thing: if the library doesn’t have the book you’re looking for, you can request that they add it to their collection. You can also download e-books, get books on tape/CD, work on their computers, find obscure niche magazines, take helpful online classes, attend informative lectures and get passes to local museums, just to name a few of the many library perks.

Yet another incredibly helpful but overlooked (at least by me) feature of the library is the designated “quiet” work area.  I am someone who can get lost for a few hours at a time in my work—assuming I can get into the chair and start typing.  It’s always that tricky “sitting down” part that’s hard for me, which is why I have never worked very efficiently from home. I can think of just about anything else more pressing to do— from baking doggie treats to trying to figure out how to work my overly complicated camera— anything besides sitting down in front of the blank screen.  It’s best for me to get out of the house to write.  Coffee shops are great, sometimes, but I tend to consume too many muffins and way too much whip cream in my hot beverages.  The quiet workspace in the library is perfect for getting some snack-free, no-nonsense writing done. As a bonus feature, if I do feel like procrastinating at the library, at least I can goof off in a writing-related manner.  I’ll look at the latest issues of writing magazines, or read the opening paragraphs of a bunch of books see what the author wrote to grab a reader’s attention.

Now, for good karma purposes, I feel like I should be buying books, not checking them out of the library for free, since one day I hope others will return the favor and buy my (as yet unfinished) book.   But realistically, for the moment anyway, I can’t buy all the books I want to read. Plus, almost every time I go to the library, I discover a new author whose book I usually end up either buying for my collection or recommending to other people. Case in point: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I discovered this book in the library, and now don’t see how I can live without owning the entire All Souls Trilogy! (Plus, check out Deborah Harkness’ wine blog!)

So, a hearty shout-out to the award-winning King County Library System for the excellence of their selection, service and facilities! You’ve made a library convert out of me!

Disclaimer: If I had children, I’m sure I would have rediscovered the library much sooner.  All my friends who are mothers look at me with a bored expression when I tell them about my thrilling discovery.

Have you explored your local library lately?  Does being surrounded by books put you in the mood to write?