“When we had nowhere to live, we would spend hours at the library, using what I thought to be the key to the world: library computers.”
As Arthur Read, my favorite aardvark, would say, “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card.” Well, it was hard. I didn’t have my library card. Again.
The librarian probably had me on “recent history” since this happened so often, so she just looked me up on the computer. I, the little glasses-wearing 9-year-old patron, simply wanted to check out a book, but now I had two problems: I did not have my library card and my fines were too high to check out.
Pulling out the dollar bill I had found in my duct tape wallet, I paid the 20 percent of my fine that let me check out a book and left, gritting my teeth. If I could have checked out a book called “Handling Money for Kids,” I would have, because most of my “wealth” went right back to the library.
Thanks to my mom, I practically had a library card from birth. I would go to my library not just to read books but to be immersed in them. I would find my stool, sit in the children’s area and read. I would get dropped off at the library while my mom worked, and I would follow my usual routine: sit, read, return, repeat, and if I was lucky, check out.
The purpose of my visit was usually the same: read books or play on the computer. But as I grew up, I realized that things had begun to change. My mom began coming to the library with us more often. While I would be reading or finishing homework, she would be right there, typing beside me. Our worlds coexisted, but for a reason.
For three years, my mother was unemployed. As a single mother, the struggle of not having a job, home or car was immense. I stopped my usual routine and was fine with it. With two tabs open, I continued on with my work.
I would log on daily to Zillow, job search websites and websites about stroke rehabilitation for my grandfather, asking if any of my findings would work. “Gracias, mija,” my mom always said, but I realized the stress ensued. We were in different worlds, but they collided.
When we had nowhere to live, we would spend hours at the library, using what I thought to be the key to the world: library computers. Whether it was at our childhood library or the library 40 miles away by the farm where we were staying, the library was this stability.
Sitting behind the service desk today, I see and hear it all: the little girl begging to check out Junie B. Jones, the boys playing Roblox on the computer, the woman filing her taxes, the call from “Sports Guy” asking for the latest results, the woman asking about the weather.
I hear Spanish, English, Somali. I get the usual rule-breakers: kids running, out of breath, to the desk asking, “Can I have a Guest Pass?”
At first, the slowly printed receipt is just a number, but I soon realize it is much more. I was once saying, “My mom forgot her card” or “When does the library close?” or “Can I use the phone?” Back then, I was the patron on the computer, the kid in the reading area. Now, I am the specialist at the desk looking up the forgotten library cards. Sitting at the desk does not make me forget my past, it helps me embrace it.
The library gives people access to a resource that opens doors in one way for one person, and in others for the next. Even after my mom got a job, the library remained a source of security and comfort. By working at a place that gave me so much, I have learned to give back. I now have the opportunity to open the library to others, just as it was opened up to me.