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I [Heart] the DC Public Library

“When all else fails, give up and go to the library.” Stephen King, 11/22/63

When you are among the first early morning visitors at the public library in Washington DC, right as they open their doors, you are usually one of the following: 1) A mother or nanny attending Story Time with a young child, 2) A male looking to use one of the library computers for Internet, 3) Sandra Falcón with her pink backpack and Mickey Mouse sticker on her laptop. That’s it. I’ve even noticed that, at least regarding 2 and 3, this applies on weekends the same as weekdays, and regardless of what branch of the library I am visiting. It’s the men, sometimes the toddlers, and me.

In recent years and months, I have come to develop a profound love for the public library. I was very familiar with spending long hours at libraries as a graduate student; however, public libraries are an entirely different experience. Whereas the library at Georgetown University conjured exclusivity everywhere I looked or sat, the public libraries are places of equal opportunity and access to information for everyone. I marvel at the number of library books that have nurtured and enriched the story in my current novel, and at the hours of enjoyment we have had browsing children’s books with our little boy. And when the DC library system extended its hours earlier this fall, I photographed the sign and rushed to share it with people I know, this is how happy I was.

One element unique to public libraries is the colorful characters and interesting–sometimes jarring–experiences one encounters with them. Like the time a few months ago, when a gentleman locked himself in the men’s room. Not inside a stall, no. The man threw the deadbolt on the door separating the library and the entire men’s room. After enough time had passed, and the cleaning woman became exasperated after asking him several times to come out, things began to escalate. Then came a librarian, who threatened to call the police. “Sir, you need to come out now! We are going to call the police!” The poor man’s response, which I am sure made sense to him somehow, could be heard loud and clear a good twenty feet away, “I don’t have a coat hanger!” I have never once forgotten my earphones after that day.

On another occasion, as I was getting up to leave, the contents of my open backpack spilled out onto the floor. A man wearing an Inspector Clouseau trench coat, sitting at a library computer a few tables away, got up, turned around, and yelled: “What do you think you’re doing?!” I looked around, my body language no doubt saying, Who, me? Indeed, he was talking to me.  “Just what do you think you are doing?!!” Once again I looked around. Then I packed my backpack faster than you can say coat hanger, and left. I still see him on a regular basis. And I give his table a wide breadth as I come and go.

It’s fair to say, I did not see a lot of this at Georgetown.

Saturday mornings are especially interesting, because there are no toddlers with their nannies or mamas. So aside from library employees, it’s basically me and the menfolk for a good thirty minutes after the library has opened. Yesterday, when I was finally joined by other females, my attention was drawn to a (roughly) sixty-year-old Latina woman. She sat at one of the computers, and began watching Youtube videos. First was Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Relax (Don’t Do It), total awesomeness. She was tapping her feet and bobbing her head up and down, pony tail flapping. A kindred spirit!

Soon followed Billy Joel (Uptown Girl, We Didn’t Start the Fire), and the awesomeness factor was rising fast. After Billy Joel came Prince (early eighties), Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson–Rhythm Nation. I love that video! By this point I had forgotten my book, and was bobbing my head along with her. Then things took an interesting turn when she abandoned the eighties altogether, and began to watch some Britney Spears. Hmm. Britney was followed by Chris Brown–uh oh. By the time she was watching a Jean Claude Van Damme movie, I knew our relationship had run its course. I really need to remember to sit with my back to the library computers.

Still, I love all of it. Thank you, public libraries!

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