Libraries are not typically associated with fun. You’re supposed to be quiet, you’re not allowed to run, and those who are too boisterous are asked to leave. Patrons sit quietly, don’t smile much, and are generally engrossed in their own interests.
But I say that libraries are fun. First, they’re free! Totally! Free books, free ebooks, free computers, free database access, free classes, free one-on-one consultations with educated, experienced reference librarians. Free is fun! Yes, sure, you pay property (or whatever flavor your community uses) taxes to support your library, but it feels free. And what’s not fun about free?
It’s also quiet – and though we usually associate fun with loud and boisterous, it’s hard to find quiet in our increasingly crowded and industrialized world. Sanctuary from noise isn’t obviously fun, but it can be. I think it’s quietly fun to put on your library face: serious, calm, studious. Walk slowly, look as if you’re deeply engaged in serious thoughts – then make faces at all the little kids, and smile at everyone who makes eye contact.
You can browse – and Google and other electronic search engines have sucked a lot of browsing out of our lives. I admit I was very sad the day that Michigan State University retired the library’s card catalogs – thumbing your way through the cards always popped up unexpected and interesting finds. Modern electronic searches rarely yield that sort of off-topic surprise, and the demise of the card catalog took a little bit of mystery, a little bit of magic, out of the world forever. I’ve never heard anyone talk about how they google for giggles, but walking around the library in a section you rarely enter can be quiet library-style fun.
But the best fun in a library is hobnobbing with the librarians. Just as we don’t see libraries as particularly fun, librarians are seen as almost the antithesis of a fun person. Which is so wrong. Librarians are a hoot! Underneath their mild-mannered exterior, their button-down, soft-spoken, hair-in-a-bun stereotypical appearance lives a bunch of wild men (and women). Okay, it’s usually expressed in quiet, dry wit rather than dancing at the party with a lampshade on the head, but some really (quiet, calm) fun can be had with library staff.
Because they’re cool people, and they’re also really bored. Not all the time, not all of them, but the electronic scourge has hit them hard. My library (Columbus Metropolitan Library in Columbus, OH) is truly world class, having been awarded #1 Library in the US and Library of the Year awards in the 6 years I’ve been here, but, despite the incredible facilities and awesome staff (and they are), most people don’t interact much with the librarians. They’re too busy using the computers, or searching for books on the computers – heck, they even check out books using a computer!
So librarians are just itching to have fun. Many of them went to school and got a very difficult degree (library science is tough), and now they spend their days reshelving and diddling on a computer. These people live to help people find out what they want to know, and most of us ask Google instead. So, go have fun with one! Ask a really esoteric question that you’ve always wanted to know the answer to: “What is the meaning of life?” “How long does it take light to travel from the center of the sun to the Earth?” (the answer will shock you) “Do dating sites actually work?” You’ll see – librarians are fun.
In fact, why not ask them about library fun? You may be in for a surprise.