The Library Comes Through in Thick and Thin

by Bill Peak

One of the things I love about writing these articles is that people now come up and tell me of similar experiences they've had in the library, often adding they think their story would make a perfect subject for my next column. This makes me both happy and sad-happy because it's always gratifying to discover I'm not alone, that sooner or later anyone who spends any time in the library is bound to witness a minor miracle or two, and sad because, as it happens, I'm not the writer they think I am.

I've always admired people who, on a moment's notice, can turn out graceful prose on subjects not of their choosing, but I'm afraid I can't. The stories I tell here are my stories, they're based on things I've seen at the library and then thought about and wondered over, until, by a process I don't claim to understand, they shape themselves into a form suitable for this column. But the other day someone suggested I write about the economic downturn's effect on the library and, as it happened, one of my own stories bubbled to the surface.

She had to be pushing seventy, her hair still styled in a manner fashionable twenty years ago. One of the first things she told me was that her husband had recently passed away (while the gist of this story is true, I have changed certain facts to protect the woman's privacy), and I wondered absently if she had kept these bangs and curls not out of vanity but because he had loved them. Now it seemed, for the first time since her teens, she had to find a job. She'd seen a Help Wanted sign in a local chain-store, but the people there had told her she must apply online. The woman hesitated before saying “online,” and when she did say it, she pronounced the word slowly as if using it for the first time.

Well, to make a long story short, it quickly became evident she had never used a computer before. I showed her how to log on and access the internet, but when we brought up the chain-store's website, even I was stumped by its lay-out. So I called the company's 800 number and let a honey-voiced twenty-something walk me through to the necessary page. Thanking her, I asked if she thought a simpler site might not make it easier for applicants to apply. “If they aren't smart enough to figure out our home-page,” she replied, “we don't want them.” I fear this young lady is in for a lot of disappointment in her life.

But the woman I was helping remained undeterred. Holding her mouse as you or I might the head of a rattlesnake, she moved her cursor to the application's first box and began to fill it in. Clearly, when times get tough, the tough get going.

And nowadays, they often go to the library.

At a time when many entry-level jobs require online application, think of what our 28 public access computers mean to the thousands of people in our community who don't own one. Then there are the mothers who can find plenty of free entertainment for their children at the library-and no one's trying to sell them anything! We also offer classes in basic computer skills, and regularly make referrals to social service agencies — all absolutely free of charge.

When people hit the skids for the first time in their life and don't know where to look for help, they turn to those they know ... their friends, their church, their local library.