You Are the Talbot County Free Library
by Bill Peak
First thing every morning, I take Cherokee for a walk. We live in a
pretty big subdivision and I'm always afraid somebody racing to work
will run over her, so I've trained her to sit when a car comes. After
the car is past, Cherokee receives a treat for having been a good dog.
On a normal morning, I probably give her five or six treats. This
morning she received one.
Pandemic. Strange new word—a little too close to “panic” for
comfort—but we're all trying to get used to the restrictions it places
on us. If you can, work from home. If you're over sixty (I have to
keep reminding myself that I am), stay home. Practice social
“Social distancing”—there's another new one, as contradictory and
unsettling a phrase as “cold comfort” or “dysfunctional family.” And
it feels unsettling and contradictory too. It's a perfectly beautiful
day: the sun shines, birds sing, the last of the jonquils lift and bow
their heads, but despite it all, a sense of unspoken menace hangs in
the air, the sure knowledge that, though I would like to, I cannot get
close to anyone now. I have to keep my distance.
You don't realize how much you enjoy the company of others, the notion
that you are not alone, till you are alone, your own vulnerability,
your very humanness, the fact that you are mortal, standing between
you and everyone else.
Inevitably, thinking about how much I miss people, I think about the
library. It is not just the place where I enjoy running into folks I
know, it's a place where all the people I know enjoy running into
folks they know. How many times have I thought and written that,
absent people, the library ceases to be a library, becomes just a
large brick building full of inanimate things? But when people walk
through the door, those things spring to life, become books and
movies, public computers and music CDs—things that only have meaning
when people use them, things that flower in the presence of humanity.
And now they're all just sitting there, gathering dust.
Ever since Benjamin Franklin enlisted a group of his friends to found
what was arguably the world's first public library, libraries in
America have belonged not to one person or a special elite, but to
everyone. They are created by the community for the community.
Indeed, we believe our library so important to the health of our
community that we give of our own treasure to make it public, its
holdings available free of charge to each of our fellow citizens
regardless of station or worth. It is a remarkable institution, when
you think about it, unique in the history of humankind.
And it is, as I have said, first and foremost a community endeavor.
So now, we, the people of Talbot County, must take up Franklin's baton
and carry the library forward, maintain it for our friends and
neighbors, the people we built the library for in the first place.
Though we cannot visit the building now, those of us with computers at
home can still take advantage of the library's multiple online
offerings by visiting its website (www.tcfl.org). There we can search
its eResources for information on everything from how to repair the
muffler on a 1968 Ford Fairlane (Chilton Library) to what was
great-Aunt Maude's maiden name (Ancestry Library Edition). We can go
to the “About” tab, click on “Contact Us” in the drop-down menu, and
ask a librarian to research pretty much anything for us.
But because not everyone in Talbot County has a computer, and some of
those that do may be unsure how to access and use the library's
eResources, those of us who can need to reach out to those who can't:
we need to become the library for those we care about. Please, for
the sake of the health and harmony of the community we love, call the
people you know, check up on your friends and neighbors, especially
those who live alone. Make sure they're all right. And if, like most
of us, they're going a little stir crazy at home, would like to feel
as if they're still engaged with the world, still capable of learning
and growing, ask them if there's some information you can look up for
them in the library's eResources or a question you can submit for them
to the library's staff. As someone who's been doing this sort of
thing for years now, in a sense being the library for the people of
Talbot County, I can assure you it's going to make you feel just as
good as it does the people you help. This way, together, we create
not a physical library, but a library of souls.