You know how, when you have kids, you rediscover all sorts of old childhood haunts from a completely new perspective. Amusement parks, regular parks, community pools, toy stores...all take on new meaning when you're seeing them again for the first time from your childrens' eyes.
Recently, we rediscovered the Library. Being the writer and voracious reader that I am, I'm no stranger. However, being the lazyass, acquisitive hoarder of knowledge that I am, I'm more prone to go and buy that reference book, that new release, or the one with the shiny cover that strikes my fancy. Because I want to keep the thing, dammit--mineminemine! Also, the University library once held my diploma hostage for unpaid library fines totaling under five bucks, so I'm well aware of the bite of the great and majestic beast.
But the Library always does a summer reading program for the kids. Read 20 books and get prizes for reading, kinda thing. And the kids eat it up.
Well, my five year old was naturally curious. He's no stranger to the bookstore, where Mom takes them to play with the trains in the kids section while I scribble in the notebook, and wanted to know why we couldn't keep the books we borrowed. Got me thinking, so I told him the story of why the Library is the Most Precious Gift to Mankind. I was stressing the importance of taking care of the books so that we could share them with other people, but I found myself remembering a childhood punctuated by enormous library fines because the one book I absolutely loved with all my heart and soul (D'Aulaire's book of Greek Myths) was one I couldn't bear to give back, and my parents weren't really book-buying souls. I remembered how I discovered Nancy Drew via the school library and devoured every one (the librarians swore I couldn't be reading them that fast. They did not know about the flashlight in my bed. Mu-HA!). I remembered all the things I wasn't supposed to know about, coming to light in the library.
I told my son about the Library--it's free books. You have to give them back, but nobody can take the words out of your head once you've read them. Anybody, no matter how much money they have or don't have, can go into the library and borrow a book on anything.
He's a little too young to understand the concept of L-Space yet...but he understands that he can pick out books on any subject that strikes his whim--last week was platypuses (platypii?), this week, it's penguins and ancient Egypt.
So when I said, "The Library is the most precious gift of a civilized society," by the Gods, I really meant it. And then I spent half an hour explaining that a civilized society is where people don't put their feet on the table.