The worth of libraries

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, February 20, 2014

My earliest memory of visiting a municipal public library is somewhat hazy. I don’t know for sure how old I was, but I’d say between 4 and 7.

Something had piqued my interest about vampires. I was a few years off reading “Dracula,” but perhaps I’d caught some reference to it on TV, a cartoon version, or something like that.

Anyway, I think I asked my mother to take me to the library so I could whet my appetite. I remember approaching the front desk and asking the librarian — a classmate of mine’s mother who worked there for decades — and she dredged up some children’s books that dealt with the subject in a tame fashion.

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We also found some books on Transylvania, and looked up the Romanian region in an atlas. This was also my earliest memory of feeling a compulsion to travel and explore — though I still haven’t been there.

I checked some books out and, for the next few weeks, the world of a boy living on a farm outside a town of 2,500 people — that was almost an hour from anywhere much larger — grew quite a bit. And with many subsequent visits to the library in the ensuing years, this would become a trend.

I’m reflecting on all this following the city’s decisions to build a new downtown library and revitalize the Chuckatuck branch. Perhaps owning to some new — or new-ish — faces in the library system, it also seems Suffolk’s public libraries are expanding their offerings — for instance, a kids’ Lego Club at the North Suffolk and downtown branches.

Libraries are good things to invest in, but good luck trying to quantify the return on that investment, if you’ve a mind to.

I couldn’t explain — let alone quantify — how much learning about vampires and Eastern Europe at a tender age enriched my life, but if you added up all those kinds of library experiences most of us have had, you’d arrive at something pretty special that it would be a shame to discount.

Spending public money on anything has the potential to be controversial, but I’m glad this city has the foresight to encourage its citizens, young and old, to become independent learners by enhancing the means at their disposal.

Someone once said for the first time that a mind left to wander is a dangerous thing, but I would say that a mind left unfed is tragic.