Bound & Determined

I somehow forgot that libraries exist.

As a former English major and recently dormant bookworm, I’m embarrassed to admit this. But the truth is that before last Saturday, I had only darkened the doors of our local library once since we bought our house 3 years ago. And even that one time, I simply visited the library to pick up some tax forms. Clearly, the digital undertow of the modern era has cast its insidious spell on this lapsed lover of literature.

But last weekend, after stopping at the farmer’s market (another activity I highly recommend), we paid a visit to the Dillsburg Library. And let me tell you something: It felt like I had stumbled through a magical portal into a lost world.

I know that sounds melodramatic, but hear me out.


As someone who measures the success of my 2-year-old son’s day by how much time he spends reading (as well as how much time he spends outdoors), discovering a treasure trove of easily accessible children’s books — beyond the burgeoning stockpile we’ve managed to amass at home — qualifies as something of a revelation.

Picture your country library system as a tree. Even the smallest, most poorly developed branch of our local “tree” could conceivably triple or quadruple (more likely septuple or octuple) the total number of leaves my little bookworm can nibble through on a given month. And let me tell you, that book-hungry little worm can nibble with the best of ‘em!

The library also offers a rare and refreshing commodity — a free-of-charge public space where zero products are being sold. This means we can give Greyson a safe play and reading area, and a change of scenery, without feeling that we’re imposing or need to make a purchase in order to justify our presence.

The beautiful thing about libraries is that they exist solely to fulfill an essential public good. By and large, they are free of profit margins and product placement. Like public parks, libraries exist in a realm beyond commerce, beyond advertising — beyond the teeming, scheming marketplace. I want Greyson to grow up in such spaces, surrounded by nature and books. Curiosity and wonder. Peace and quiet.

Then there is every good library’s requisite storytime hour — just think about that concept for a moment. A person volunteers to read books to children at a library with no monetary incentive, purely for the joy of sparking their imaginations and seeing their little faces light up. How could I not want my son to be part of that? I know there are other venues where public storytelling takes place, but libraries offer this with no ulterior commercial motive. That’s a rarity in this world.

While Danielle and I are showing Greyson the wonders of the library world, we’ll also avail ourselves of its immense bounty as well. On our first two visits, in addition to the 30-odd books we found for our little guy, we also checked out a cookbook, a self-help book, and an audio novel by David Guterson (an author I love but had entirely forgotten about). I rarely find the time to sit down and read a book, but I have 80 minutes in a car every day with the most captive of audiences. And it was the library that reminded me of this self-evident but long-overlooked fact.

I vividly remember my mom, a church librarian herself, dropping me off at Camp Hill Library one morning when I was a kid. I was bound and determined to read through the entire children’s book collection, left to right, A to Z, in one sitting. The purity of this resolution filled my heart with pulsating excitement. I remember imagining the intense joy I would feel upon turning the final page of the final book on the final shelf, probably written by someone named Zelda Zymmerman.

I also remember my stinging frustration and abject sense of futility a few hours later when my mom returned to pick me up. I was still grinding my way through the ‘B’ section.

My lucid sense of purpose was thwarted that day. But I gained a certain awe and respect for the voluminous grandeur of my favorite building. I learned that the library is not something that can be accomplished, comprehensively mastered, or checked off a list with finality.

The library is essentially a boundless realm. At least in the way that the ocean is a boundless realm. It’s not actually infinite, but it might as well be, given our mortal constraints.

My bookish wife and I have now taken our bookworm son to the library two weekends in a row, and there’s no stopping us now. This is our new Saturday morning ritual.


While we’re there, Greyson mostly avails himself of the blocks, puzzles, little animals, little people, trains, planes, and automobiles in the play area. He waits until we’re back home to voraciously devour the stack of books we’ve carefully hand-selected for him. Colorfully illustrated tales of a dog befriending a duck, a turtle getting over his fear of a moose, and a polar bear wandering too far from home. Lovingly written and whimsically hand-drawn books that help underscore all the loving sentiments and whimsical life lessons we try to teach him every day.

Only time will tell if we will be able to sustain Greyson’s interest in books for the duration of his childhood. There will be myriad influences in our digital age that will threaten to dull and diminish the appeal of the library’s quiet, reflective spaces. We will do everything in our power to preserve our son’s curiosity, but parents are not all-powerful in dictating their child’s preferences and hobbies. At a certain age, Greyson will have to decide for himself if he wants to retain his bookworm status.

After all, as the saying goes: You can lead a horse to a library, but you can’t make him check out any books.

That being said, I’ll make the following declaration for myself. After once again stumbling through that sacred portal into the lost land of loose leaves I used to know and love so well, I’m convinced of one thing (and our screen-saturated century will not steal this ironclad resolution away from me).

I will never again forget that libraries exist.


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