Models Monday: Borrowing, Renting, and the Library

I.

Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland.

My friend Raina routinely goes to the library with her daughter. It’s their place for getting books, videos, and CDs. I thought about this recently when my mother decided to use her local library to borrow a movie because her local Blockbusters has gone out of business. My Mom was shocked that she hadn’t thought about going to the library sooner. My Mother is a fan of Hollywood and she subscribes to People magazine and watches Entertainment Tonight during the week. In thinking about her decision to use her local library, I was reminded of my ambition to record the questions that I ended the year thinking about as a part of my year-in-review. To that end, I wondered if these celebrities who have captured my mother’s interest ever go to the library? They certainly get all gussied up to go to a movie premier and some go to Gallery openings. I’ve heard celebrities discussing the importance of the Arts and generating support for them through concerts. But do celebrities go to the library?

George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

Where are the paparazzi photographs of celebrities ducking out of the library wearing aviator shades? They are not dogged by stories of what books they borrowed or guesses about the titles they try to conceal while running to their waiting cars. The new Duchess across the pond does her own grocery shopping from time to time and Jennifer Garner takes her children to the park, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone famous coming from the library.

Perhaps borrowing suggests poverty. I actually know College students who don’t use the library. A friend asked one of these students why not and this young woman responded that she didn’t like “renting” books. “Renting?” my friend asked. “Yeah,” the student told her, “I’d rather buy.” That language goes a long way toward explaining why celebrities wouldn’t go to the library. Owning reflects a person’s power through credit history and long standing ties to money (think about people who look down on those who rent property on Martha’s Vineyard versus owning property there), and in some cases, freedom. From this perspective, renting, I suppose, means being marginal to wealth. Of course, celebrities find nothing wrong with wearing jewelry on loan from expensive jewelers when they’re on the red carpet going to the movies (I always wonder if they really get all dressed up to literally go into a movie theater and watch a movie–there’s got to be something else going on inside much more suited to their attire). So they’re not opposed to borrowing in general, they’re just not into “renting” books I suppose.

When I used to buy items from the American Library Association website, they used to sell posters and bookmarks featuring celebrities. Serena Williams, Shaquille O’Neal, Justin Timberlake, that young man from Harry Potter–you name the celebrity and they were on a bookmark or poster celebrating reading while holding up their favorite book. But I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a candid shot of a single one of them coming out of an actual library…but they are forever being photographed coming out of nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, stadiums, clothiers, bakeries, airports–but never libraries.

II.

I’ve continued thinking about Walter Dean Myers’s appointment as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Even more, I’ve thought about his campaign slogan, “Reading is Not Optional.” I understand what Myers wants to communicate with this slogan but I’m not taken by its clarity. In American culture, I am more frequently experiencing the negative possibilities of what he intends. For example, I was using a newly designed website for a site that I frequently visit. As I was trying to figure out how to navigate it, I grew frustrated that I had to watch videos about navigation and was never given an option to read about the navigation. Why couldn’t they provide photographs and words (or just words)? Why did I have to watch a video and suffer through information that didn’t pertain to me? If I were given the option to read, I wouldn’t have wasted two good minutes of my time. It also happens with news stories on the internet. You’ll read a headline that attracts your attention but when you click it, you find that you have to see a video as opposed to being taken to an article to read. This is not what Myers means by reading not being optional but it’s true that we are not always given the option to read content, we must suffer through video.

III.

Maybe the current status of our housing market will change the way Americans view “renting” and we will begin seeing photographs of celebrities borrowing books. As it stands, having money seems to mean spending money and borrowing marks a person’s lack. This isn’t the way I see it. Libraries are wonderful community resources and borrowing books represents an undervalued method of exchange between citizens. Sharing resources between citizens offers a model by which to live that counters the consumer transactions that have come to define us. Libraries reinforce membership and belonging to a community and this makes them worthwhile places to visit. 

4 thoughts on “Models Monday: Borrowing, Renting, and the Library

  1. I agree! When I move to a new city, one of the first things I do is find my local library and get my card. I can’t think of a time in my adult life when I haven’t carried a card–and I cherish the privilege of borrowing from the library. It always surprises me when folks are cavalier about (and abusive of) those privileges. I remember, as a child, checking books out of the school library and the books still had cards, so you could see the names of the previous borrowers–it gave me a private thrill, as if we were all members of a secret reading society, even those who had read the books decades before me. Thanks for your insight; I’ll be looking for that photo of a celebrity exiting the public library–or even reading a book in public.

    1. Thanks for your comment Sharan. I also remember when school library books contained cards with the names of previous borrowers! But I guess if we remember that, we also remember when school libraries were actually called “libraries.” School libraries these days, at least in Georgia, are called “media centers.” Is that true for other states as well? Can you imagine what it would mean for public libraries to call themselves “media centers”?

      When I was young and I had a question about how something was spelled or about the history of an event, my grandmother would tell me to “go look it up.” So what I was told in school was reinforced at home. I don’t know if young people are encouraged to be intellectually independent in that way now. Many young people that I know bemoan what someone didn’t tell them in school. It seems to me that the instruction to “look it up” and going to the library encourages a person to create their own assignments.

      1. A few years ago I watched an interview with a mother who had home-schooled her son, and because he’d been accepted into a prestigious school, folks wanted to know how they’d done it (because she was a single, part-time working, Black mother raising a male child–I guess they figured she had some extraordinary method she could impart to them). She said that there was no complicated pedagogical approach. Whatever he wanted to know, whenever he had a question about something, they would “go look it up”–in the library, museum, zoo, theatre, … wherever. She encouraged his intellectual curiosity and modeled the independent pursuit of knowledge. I don’t know that both schools and families are consistently instilling that notion in young people so much these days. And it’s true that the very terms we use matter–media center has the slick emptiness of much consumerist/political rhetoric that increasingly eclipses basic, sensible words.

        1. I love the phrase “slick emptiness.” It powerfully captures the meaninglessness of the rhetoric you’ve identified.

          I really think that the best education we can provide children is reflected in what this woman offered her son. The education as answers approach hasn’t helped encourage intellectual curiosity.

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