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Beyond the fortress of books

Mar 15, 2023Mar 15, 2023

The library visits of my youth sparked wonder and imagination, our education reporter writes. It was a privilege. Not every child is so fortunate.


May 29, 2023

I grew up in the era of Toys R Us, when Geoffrey the Giraffe beckoned kids from across the parking lot or through the television screen to a wonderland that seemed to offer every toy imaginable.

Yet, other than a vague recollection of toy-filled aisles, I have no specific memory attached to that store. What I do remember are regular trips to the public library in Merrillville, Indiana, with my mom and twin sister.

We’d enter the book fortress, heeding requests to use our indoor voices, and make a beeline for the children's floor upstairs. First stop: story hour, where we would bask in the delight of a children's picture book. But the real joy – and first taste of independence – came afterward when our mom would let us wander the aisles choosing new books to check out. It's how I met the venerable Clifford, Arthur, and Berenstain Bears. (If you sense an animal theme, I’m guilty as charged.)

The library visits sparked wonder and imagination – and were only made possible by a parent who could take us. It was a privilege. Not every child is so fortunate, especially nowadays.

The librarians I met at the Missouri River Regional Library in Jefferson City while reporting our recent cover story are keenly aware of how difficult it can be for some families to access their stacks. So they have several initiatives designed to extend the library's reach out into the community.

A brightly colored bus dubbed the "Bookmobile" makes frequent community excursions to places such as schools and malls. Children and adults alike are welcomed aboard to choose their books in the tiny library format.

The library system maintains lockers at the local mall, allowing library card holders to select items online and pick them up in what's perhaps a more convenient location.

A third innovation borrows from subscription programs that pair personal stylists with clothing buyers. With "Book Box," readers can explore a personalized selection of titles packed just for them – think "Stitch Fix" for books.

These strategies bring the gifts of the library to people who may lack transportation or time to wander the aisles themselves. For children in particular, an interest in reading could blossom into a love for reading, opening incalculable future doors.

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And some of those doors might very well be attached to the brick-and-mortar library itself. It's sometimes described as a "third place" of refuge, complementing the home and workplace.

Patty Eastin, a Jefferson City resident who stopped by the library while waiting to meet up with a friend, summed it up this way: "I’ve always felt at home in a library."

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