Friday, April 18, 2003

In Praise of my Local Library

I love this place. I started going to this library – the downtown, main branch in 1988 when I moved to my little university town to attend grad school. I had discovered, somehow – and I forget how – about books-on-tape. And since I was sharing a studio with four other fiber grad students I couldn’t just blare my radio and disrupt their concentration so I knew I had to fall back on my walk-man. Although at that time I wasn’t a Muslim so I did listen to music, I had found that during the labor-intensive parts of my artmaking it was more interesting to listen to someone read rather then music.

I suppose music had a way of boring me after awhile whereas the literature keep my mind working while my hands were busy. Necessary, that, for me. True, when I was involved in a particularly difficult passage of a piece I would not listen to a book as it took too much concentration and I’d be distracted, but for many times of art making, it was the perfect combination.

Anyhow, nearly 15 years later – to the day (May 1, 1988, that is, when I first moved to this town) - I’m still a books-on-tape listener and regular patron of my local library. Except now I am a matronly Muslim mama with three little kids in tow rather then the hip, slightly disaffected, self-declared sophisticate feminist artist that I was in 1988.

How times do change.


But my library doesn’t change. If anything, it’s gotten cooler over time, and cleaner, brighter and better organized – having won some big, national library award in 1999 or something like that. But I still love the place, with its increasing diversity and selections. I much prefer it to any bookstore, (because I can have anything I want, here – almost – and the taint of overt commercialism is gone – which I really got sick of when I worked in one of those mega-places). Although really – like the other super-bookstores in town – it should have a coffee shop. One that has sippy cups available for little kids. And good, cheap decaf coffee.

But I digress (as usual, I know).

So, my two oldest kidlets were playing on the computer in the cheery, spacious children’s section, and my youngest was sleeping, crammed into the back of my heavily used double stroller (what WOULD I do without that thing, I really don’t know). So, I take a few minutes to quickly go check out my piles of wonderfully borrow-able loot. There was no line, so I went to the nearest librarian-check-out-lady who was an aging hippie that my sweet university town has a plethora of and I started loading up her desk. I pile books on the high counter in a jumble – videocassettes, my book-on-tape selections, and about 20 kid’s books of all descriptions. I offered to pay my fine (which I seem to have about every 2 months or so, try as I might) and she good heartedly took off a buck or so, for whatever reason that I could not figure out. Then she proceeded to survey my selections while scanning each one.

“OOOOHHHH, THIS is a good one!” She says as she checks out The Archivists by Martha Cooley, which I’ve checked out again.

“Yes, it seems to be.” I say. “I started listening to it, but then there was this war and I listened to NPR so much that I didn’t get a chance to listen to the tape. Now I’m going to try to listen to the end.”

“I understand,” she said. “I had to really limit myself, too. Now I just listen to the BBC for one hour at night now, and then I force myself to turn it off.”

Then she leaned closer to me, over the brown Formica-wood counter and my stacks of books. She gazed at me conspiratorially and quietly said, “So, have you heard any more about Syria today?” her voice heavy with condemnation, thick with concern, touched with a little sarcasm.

I assure her that I haven’t but I go away loving this library, this city, and the fact that my little university hometown voted against the Crusades, I mean the American war on Iraq. I leave my library loving that far, far more residents here support peace and Muslims in general then support any kind of aggression. I go from my library thinking that although I wish I could live in a Muslim country, I can’t (for about 15 really solid, immovable reasons). And since I have to stay in the US (at least right now) I’m sure glad I can live in this little place, thank God. Here – where the librarians don’t look at my black niqab and see a terrorist, but where, instead, they see someone who shares many of their same views. Here, where many of the residents look past my veil and see, maybe, a friend.

Crossposted at A Portrait of the Artist as a Muslim Woman

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