By Virginia Roberts
Rhinelander District Library Director
As part of my job and it’s a part I really enjoy, I get to tell the stories of how libraries help the community, and how libraries change lives—even if we don’t know it.
The stories rarely come from me—I hear them from others, people who work here, either as staff or volunteers. Sometimes they relay a story from the community, and sometime they are questions from one of you. And because people come here, quite literally, from before they were born. Ask Mr. Tom about it sometime.
This month has been a good month for stories. With our youngest members, we always know story time has been successful when someone is physically having a grand old fit because they don’t want to go home. I saw this Monday morning—complete with flinging their bottle across the main floor of the library! Also, every weekday afternoon, about 3:30 there is a race to the library by many of our elementary students to get the best seats in the children’s department—well, and the teens coolly stopping by, as well, to get the best places to study on the couch and at the quiet tables—really, they’re studying!
This week our children (and we, here at the library all think of them as “our” kids) entrusted the indomitable Mrs. C to care for their stuffed animals on an overnight excursion and make their loveys behave. The photos from the Stuffed Animal Sleepover are posted on the library’s Facebook page (which is public and can be seen without a Facebook account)—I dare anyone looking not to burst out laughing (and be slightly jealous) from all the “fun” these critters were having. Earlier that day, a session of our Teen Gamers, who meet about every third Monday, appear to be learning a new card game from an unexpected volunteer who just stopped by and saw something familiar. One of the latest stories involves the “love in six words” contest one of our Adult staff had that ended Saturday, February 13. The winning entry is again is posted on RDLs Facebook page.
At least once a day I encounter a person newly located to our community—who—as one of the first things done is to get a library card. And there are many stories there—but they seem to have a single theme—several have told me it’s like getting a key to the community. All of a sudden—with that library card, comes the ability to look for a job and fill out applications, further research a business possibility, connect with area activities, check out local history, or get that book or movie they wanted to finish—but haven’t unpacked yet.
My favorite stories though, are frequently about folks who grew up here. The quiet gentleman who, recently retired, was getting his first library card since he was a child, because now he had time enough to read. Or the young author who, when I showed her around, remarked when we got to the meeting room “I remember this place, it’s been a long time since I’ve been here” as it was, where as a child, she had participated in story time from before she could remember. Many children have enjoyed our meeting room, and not just for story times—before the 1984 addition, it was the children’s library!
And finally, two of the best stories are also the saddest, because our patrons died. But library staff was here for them as much and as long as we could be. One was a gentleman who was here at least several times a week. He read all kinds of things, voraciously, and would stay and read, because it was not easy for him to take things with anymore. When he died, we received a kind note from his family letting us know. The last truly isn’t my tale to tell, but that of the library’s outreach coordinator who goes to several of our area assisted living facilities, and gets to know the residents so well. One afternoon, she got the call that one of our patrons—who loved the library and all the books she had gotten over the years was about to go on the next great adventure. That evening, on her own time, she went to see our now unresponsive patron. She sat by the bed and talked with her awhile. Eventually, though, she needed to go home, so she took the woman’s hand, and said, “I have to go now. But before I leave, I have a question—in your life—did you get enough books—did you read enough” The patron’s eyes then flew open and she exclaimed “YES! Yes! I think so! I got enough! I got enough!” and she started laughing and tears were flowing.
She died shortly thereafter. I can only hope, in this life—just like she did, we all get enough.
If you haven’t been to your library lately—you’re missing out! You might find there is something special here for you too.