Making a Difference at my Hometown Library
Every year as I begin preparing for my return to school I try to reflect on the past three months, taking stock of how I've felt, what I've done, and where I'm going. This was my second year returning home from college to spend my summer interning at the Palatine Public Library, the place I spent many of my elementary and high school summers when I lived in Palatine year-round. I applied for the internship originally because of my passion for books as a whole and for this place in particular. This library raised me as much as my own family; I made some of my best friends through the books on these shelves. Returning this year was like eating my first home-cooked meal after being away at school; I didn’t realize how hungry I was or how much I missed it until I sat down to the whole thing spread out before me.
Entering my final year of undergrad this fall, I am at the point in my life where, according to many people, I should start to figure out The Plan. The Plan terrifies me. Every encounter I’ve had with it has gone something like this:
“So, one year left at school? What’s the plan?” Generally asked by well-meaning family members or friends of my parents, it’s my absolute least favorite question.
“I...um...well...graduate?” I laugh and shuffle away to some other corner of the room, preferably near a bookcase or the chips. What I really want to say sounds silly in my head: I have no idea what I’ll be doing, but I know that I want it to matter. To many people--myself included--this makes it sound like there is no Plan. Maybe there isn't.
That being said, if I have learned one thing during my internship it is that this job does matter. I don't know if I'll work at a library for the rest of my life, but I do know that every time a young person approaches me at the desk, grins, and asks, “Can you help me learn about bugs?” I make a small difference. Everyone working here who plans programs, who answers adults’ questions, who pulls books for displays or puts them back on their shelves matters too. Together we and every patron who uses our services maintain a space dedicated to the accessibility of knowledge. The most wonderful thing about libraries is that you don't need to prove yourself to use one. All you have to do is walk through the door.
My favorite question of the summer came from a young person. It was a simple and direct, “Do you have any interesting books?” and luckily my answer was, “Yes,” so we searched the shelves together for something good. He bounded away after a few minutes, arms full of exciting new stories and I realized the best, most important feeling in the world is helping someone discover something new. How lucky I am to have a job that gives me that feeling every day.