I was in elementary school when the subject of streaming services first came up among my classmates. One girl mentioned that she had Netflix and Hulu. Another shared eagerly about her family’s subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. I listened with awe as they turned to me expectantly.
“Oh, I don’t have Netflix or anything,” I mumbled.
“So do you use illegal websites?” they asked with a hint of admiration, since this would have been considered very cool to our 10-year-old selves.
“No — actually, I use the library.”
“Ohh. You get CDs and stuff, right?”
“You mean — well, yeah, DVDs. But I get CDs there too.”
I wanted to say more, like how I could access more content through the library than they could on their streaming services. But I closed my mouth after they nodded in a way that was obligatory, uninterested. They quickly moved on to a different topic, but that incident has stayed with me to this day.
At that time, it was unthinkable to me that others didn’t use the library as much as I did. Didn’t they check public library websites (in my case, Boston’s and Brookline’s) constantly, impatiently waiting for their holds to be ready for pickup? Didn’t they go on “borrowing sprees,” during which I would place holds on dozens of items in one session? Hadn’t a librarian ever told them at the check-out desk that they’d have to leave some items behind because they had maxed out on their account?
A couple of years before this conversation, my uncle noticed all of our borrowed DVDs and remarked that he had never seen a family use the library as much as we did. I didn’t believe him until that day.
Even before I could walk, I remember my mom taking me to the library after my nap time. She would lift me so that I could see the DVD titles, and I would pick out my favorite television programs: “Elmo’s World” and “Angelina Ballerina.” As I grew older, I would spend hours browsing for books and CDs, even though I learned how to request them online. More recently, I have taken over my dad’s role of borrowing DVDs for the family.
More than almost any other institution, the library has played the biggest role in shaping who I am. It’s fostered in me a love for books, music, and movies. In pages and through speakers and on the screen, I was exposed to beauty, violence, passion, and entirely new worlds. Pauline Kael lost it at the movies; Roger Ebert lost it at Mad magazine; I lost it at the library.
Although I used to be embarrassed in front of my peers about my perhaps outdated use of the library, it’s become a part of me that I’ve been more comfortable sharing. Maybe after I realized how essential it has been to my life and how indebted I am to it, it’s become too important not to share.
It’s a cliché to say that I would not be the person I am today without it, but it’s true. The library is like my second home, and I would not want it any other way.