If you’ve ever listened to Jen Hatmaker’s podcast (and if you haven’t, you should!), you’ve noticed she ends each interview by asking this question, which she borrows from Barbara Brown Taylor: what is saving your life right now? The answers are all over the board: from coffee to pets to online church or Clorox wipes, people reveal what is helping them cope with life. It’s been especially interesting to hear answers during the pandemic, because people are clinging to the tiniest things that represent normalcy, and that gives them hope and motivation.
For me, that’s the library.
I have always been an avid reader, the kid who brought books to restaurants and happily read while the adults talked. My bachelor’s degree is in English, so I chose a major that revolved around reading. Reading just makes me happy.
When my boys were about 3, I rediscovered the library after my husband suggested I might be spending a tad too much on books. I hadn’t been to a library in years. When my kids were really little and literally chewed through the spine of our copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I would’ve been too squeamish about germs. Once they stopped eating their reading material, the library seemed like a great idea. Simply walking into the Germantown Library brought me instant joy. Surrounded by my childhood favorites (Dr. Desoto! Strega Nona! Frog and Toad!), I realized how much I had been missing.
I am a particularly big fan of the Germantown Library, which has a wonderful children’s section and lots of fun stuff for kids to do (pre-pandemic, that is). They have a fire truck kids love to climb on, Legos galore, a cozy tent with kid-sized chairs for curling up with a favorite book, puzzles, and coloring books. They also have story time, Lego club, crafts, summer reading challenges, and fun parties for holidays.
I used to pick my kids up from school and head to the library at least once a week. They’d play while I picked out a huge assortment of books. We regularly checked out the maximum 25, and then the kids would happily sit on the floor at home looking through all of them and deciding which ones they wanted me to read first.
Now, of course, the play areas aren’t open, but I wouldn’t be taking my kids right now anyway. There’s no way they wouldn’t touch everything in sight. I just run in with my mask on and grab a few books. I also don’t just go to the Germantown Library now; I use the Collierville Library too.
Both places require masks for entry, and they have marked spaces on the floor to stay a safe distance from others. Each has plexiglass at the checkout counter. A staff member sits near the entrance to count how many people are in the building, and the Germantown Library scans your wrist for your temperature before you enter. Both places also offered curbside pickup during Safer at Home directives.
One of my favorite things about the library is how easy it is to search for a book on my phone. I can type in a subject of interest – say, sharks – and then narrow it down to just show me books for kids. Then I can see if it’s currently in and reserve the book. They text or email when it’s ready, and I pick it up. Easy peasy! Holiday coming up? Search for all the related books! Found a list online about best books for this age, great books teaching about kindness, books about diversity, etc.? Search for those names and put ‘em on hold! It’s AWESOME. Check out this post for more tips to navigate the library like a pro.
And the savings! A while back (maybe the beginning of last year, but who am I kidding? I’ve lost all sense of time now), the library added a line to the receipts and emails detailing how much money I saved by borrowing these books. They even calculate how much I’ve saved the entire time I’ve been a library patron. I’m here to tell you that it feels GREAT to discover you’ve saved $10,000 by using the library instead of purchasing books. And no, I wouldn’t have actually bought $10,000 worth of books, but I love seeing that number!
I started checking out books for myself too, realizing I wanted my kids to see me actually holding a physical book so they knew I was reading, rather than thinking I was just on a tablet. I do like the convenience of my Kindle though, and the library has me covered there too. They have this great app called Libby, where you simply add your library card number and then search for books you want. You can see how long the estimated wait time is – and sometimes it’s long for popular books – and you can put 15 books on hold at a time. Then you get a notice when the book is available, and you can borrow it for two weeks. If another becomes available and you’re not ready to read it, you can schedule it for later and remain at the top of the waiting list. They also have audio books, and I’ve found I really enjoy listening to those while I’m doing mundane stuff around the house. Making dinner or folding laundry is less of a chore when I’m listening to something interesting. I especially like this for nonfiction books where the author is narrating, so I know the tone is being delivered exactly as they intended.
The Germantown Library is part of the Wolf River Library Consortium, so you can borrow books from other libraries too. That opens up access to more great books. They will ship them to your preferred library, and you pick them up and return them to the place you choose. Both Germantown and Collierville are quarantining books for 72 hours once returned, and patrons will not accrue fines during those times.
Both Collierville and Germantown have cards free for residents of their communities. They also are free for teachers and students in their respective towns (proof required). Otherwise, it’s $50 annually for a non-resident in Germantown and $25 for non-residents at the Collierville Library. If you have a Germantown or Collierville library card but also want one at the other location, you can get a certificate of good standing from your library to receive a free card at the other.
I’m sure the libraries within the Memphis city limits have tons to offer as well – I mean, the main library is massive! – but I haven’t been in any of those libraries as a parent seeking books or activities for my children.
So how is the library saving my life? Well, it had become such a big part of our regular routine, and then we suddenly couldn’t go at all. Now the library is one of the few places I actually go. It brings my family joy during this crazy time. And right now, I’m all for the simple pleasures that give us some semblance of normalcy.