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Discovering the Public Library

"Infinite Jest" was just one of six books Linda Holmes took home on her first public library visit.

In a post for NPR’s Monkey See blog, Linda Holmes discusses the recent discovery of her local library. The writer and pop culture lover had passed by the building for years, but never ventured in until last week, and was surprised at the treasure trove housed within those unassuming walls. “[T]hey had let me walk out with six books and three DVDs for nothing and I felt like I’d committed a heist…Why, when there’s such bitter frustration over pricing of all the things people actually buy, is library borrowing often only faintly heard about…?”

Holmes addresses some of the biases today’s technophiles might have against public libraries. Modern libraries are different from what some may remember from their school days, and offer a large selection of books, reference materials and periodicals on a wide range of topics. People can also check out a variety of media such as CDs, DVDs and audio books, with some branches even allowing patrons to download audio books online. While it’s true that some of the books are well worn, the writer found this oddly comforting.

“I picked up some of those horribly abused books and felt like I was putting my hands on tangible populism. Those books are there because they’re read, and it actually made kind of a good reminder that the library was trying to help, that the idea was to serve readers.”

Holmes left, with an armload of materials including David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and a few literary indulgences by Nora Roberts, a public library convert. “The point I’m trying to make is that as a pop-culture-adjacent person, you may think that public libraries are not particularly relevant to you,” she concludes. “…[I]t was only fair to bring to your attention my experience with this bizarre business model that’s so crazy it just might work.”

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