Library Lessons This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

July 4, 2008
There is only one place left in the world that still believes in the sanctity of silence and the power of the written word. That place, of course, is the library.

Because I’m an avid reader with a quiet personality, my library was the first place on my list of community service opportunities. I figured that I would spend my time alphabetizing files, shelving books, and pointing the occasional wandering patron in the right direction. I was correct. I did all these many times, and by the end I could organize a full book cart in 10 seconds flat and practically throw novels into their places from hundreds of yards away.

Well, maybe not quite like that. The point is, I did all of the normal library tasks and endured my fair share of paper cuts and runaway-cart accidents. But the lessons I learned went far beyond the complex (and often confusing) Dewey Decimal system.

I learned about life’s struggles from the young mother who hushed her twin boys in the crowded kids’ corner. I saw the weariness painted across her face and felt her exasperation trying to find books. She also taught me the value of a mother’s love, as she curled up with her rambunctious children and softly read of dragons and pirates and the chivalrous knights they were sure to become.

I learned the importance of friendship from the teen girls who filtered in and out of the young adult section. They giggled as they spoke of the latest trends and boys at school. Most of the time, their laughter was stifled by the closest librarian who silently pointed to the “Inside Voices!” sign. Their smiles, however, never faded. They would link arms and skip out to the parking lot with new books in hand, ready to face the world together.

From the homeless man who used the library as a safe haven, I learned that everyone deserves respect. He sat by himself in a lounge chair, with his back to the rest of the library. Sometimes he would read, but other times he would simply gaze out the window to the horizon. I watched as others pointed at him and steered clear of the area he inhabited. Not once did he become a bother or cause any sort of harm, but he could not escape the label society had thrust on him or the harsh reality of the world that manifested itself in the scornful stares and averted eyes he met wherever he went. I can only hope that he will find peace and acceptance at the next stop on his journey.

The people I encountered during my hours at the library were overwhelmingly ordinary. They were you and me. They were mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, cousins, and friends. Some were at the beginning of their lives, and some were nearing the end. Some were stuck in the middle, not sure which way to go. The insight I gained from these strangers will stay with me for a lifetime.

I suppose the most important thing I learned is that, at the end of the story, the faces behind the books will teach lessons that the books cannot.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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tweedle dee said...
Jan. 5, 2009 at 1:26 pm
this is great. i loved the part about the homeless man, it is so sad. and the part about the mother and her boys reminds me of my mom and brothers. this was amazing!
mobetta said...
Sept. 7, 2008 at 7:12 pm
Overall, an excellent and very interesting story: A ! She builds and tells the story very well and illustrates meaningful personal examples across a spectrum of perspectives. She might include why she's doing community service. The idea of the last sentence is a great conclusion, but might consider a rewrite to keep her tenses consistent: ....the faces behind the books taught me lessons that the books couldn't. Last, but not least: KEEP your body of work and great writers always edit, edit, edi... (more »)
sparkles729 said...
Sept. 1, 2008 at 7:00 pm
i could not peel my eyes away from the computer screen this is an amazing piece of writing but it started off strange to me because first your fantasizing then your learning life's struggles. overall i really enjoyed reading this!
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