During our time on the road, we have had the opportunity to re-discovered libraries in a whole new light. Living a transient lifestyle, we try to find routines where we can and find ourselves working from libraries all across the country. Growing up, I frequently associated libraries with homework, long hours trying to cram out papers, and periodic naps between classes. Consequently, I hadn’t fully appreciated what an amazing resource libraries are for me and to others. As we took to the road, our relationship with these public spaces matured and deepened. Libraries are a window into the surrounding community and a vital public space that goes so much further than its collection of books.
Libraries provide a public good that I had never intimately noticed before we started living on the road. They are a public space for the people, ALL people, and one of the last spaces in society, where all are welcome to be present, without the pressure of purchase or membership. Libraries are both the custodians of knowledge through their vast collections of books, periodicals, music, and films, and a safe space for the enjoyment and dignity of all.
We use libraries all the time as a space to work and spread-out from the tight quarters of our truck camper. Libraries provide workspace with outlets, free Wi-Fi, restrooms, and shelter from the elements. We particularly appreciate that public libraries tend to be located in the center of the “downtown” area for any given city, providing us with a central workspace during the day, and easy access to explore the rest of town in the evening.
Libraries also serve many other roles within the community, depending on the particular library. They provide central points for donation collections, be it a canned good drive or used clothing drop-off point. Curated exhibits in libraries break down topics of relevance. Such as the exhibit we personally benefited from in the Florence, OR public library, which, in anticipation for the total eclipse of August 2017, highlighted exactly what an eclipse is, how to best experience it, and how to shop for the correct protective eyewear. Other exhibits we have seen provided useful information and resources in preparation for tax day and other timely topics.
Public libraries provide public room space for community gatherings, for groups to meet, and for classes in anything ranging from Yoga to book clubs to crafts, and we have witnessed many an after-school tutoring session taking place. As school often lets out well before a parent’s workday, libraries especially fill-up during the 3-5pm timeframe with tweens and teens, and become a safe after-school hang-out spot.
One of our favorite libraries from the road is the public library in downtown Nashville, which is an architecturally beautiful spot with vast collections and lots of sitting space. A section of this library is outfitted with comfortable lounging chairs and a large flat screen TV, which plays classic films for community members to come, enjoy, nap, and embrace the space. Cay and I often joke that we are “address-less”, but we realize that having the camper provides us with a roof over our heads, and this is something we are fortunate for. Not everyone has the stability of even a mobile dwelling, and it is nice to see that there are indoor spaces where everyone can come together to co-share public resources.
Most recently, I was working at the public library in downtown Manchester, VT and noticed that a long table next to me had been dressed with linens and plate ware. I had the privilege of being a “fly on the wall” while a community lunch unfolded around me. Not wanting to interrupt or draw attention to myself, I waited until almost everyone had left before asking one of the last remaining attendees if this was a common occurrence at the library? I learned that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, community volunteers host “Meals on Wheels” luncheons for any senior that would like to attend. Access to knowledge, community, kindness, and inclusivity make our public libraries the national treasure that they are. I feel lucky to be able to visit so many libraries across the country and have a deep appreciation for their continued existence and for the dedicated librarians, volunteers, participators, taxpayers, and benefactors who safeguard these public spaces.