‘Libraries are gateways, not gates’

Published 9:49 am Friday, October 6, 2017

By Lisa Johns

When I was younger, every week my mother would take me to this huge limestone building. In the winter, I could hear the rattling of steam in the pipes to provide heat. In the summer, the limestone allowed the coolness of the early morning breeze to act as an air conditioner of sorts.

The basement had huge windows and doors that the sun would provide just enough light to see. Large tables and chairs provided seats for young and old alike.

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My mother would go upstairs and my siblings and I would run down the steps like runners in a race for our lives. When we made it to the bottom, two white wooden doors acted as the portals to a different world — a place where transformation would take place.

We knew, at the moment we approached the doors, all childish shenanigans would cease.

No kicking, no shoving, no hair-pulling, no name-calling. We were entering a sanctuary of learning, of hidden worlds, of insects and wild animals, of famous inventors, of characters that would jump off the page, and infamous criminals.

We were entering the library — my most desired place to go.

The Ashland Pubic Library was housed in a large building situated on the edge of Central Park. It opened my eyes to my career, but it also was a home to many people.

You see, my idea of what a library should or should not be probably differs from most. As a librarian, I probably don’t fit the mold to begin with.

Early on, librarians wore hose and had long hair that was tightly woven into a bun on the back of their necks. They donned dark, depressing clothing and wore glasses that attached themselves to long chains around their perfect necks. They were quiet. Subdued. No food or drink would ever find its way through its doors.

It was a sanctuary. A place of learning with dead quiet days, books that stood at attention on the shelves like soldiers and provided an aura of prestige and a slight air of snobbery.

Enter Lisa Johns. The woman least likely, but most likely, to choose the field of librarianship.

Under the tutelage of both Elizabeth Spencer and Anne ”Cakie” McConnell, a Clark County librarian that developed the master of science in library science program at the University of Kentucky, I received my graduate degree.

When I became the librarian at Conkwright Middle School, we painted, we glued and we developed the Living Literature Museum. The students picked their favorite characters from books and dressed like them, becoming the characters in a museum setting.

Alva Clark and I had etiquette luncheons for sixth-grade girls. Yes, Melville Dewey might roll over in his grave, but we ate lunch in the library.

After I moved to the library at George Rogers Clark High School years later, students ate lunch in the library and I ate right along with them.

Why one might ask? Because libraries are made to be used. The are not built for elite minds to determine who or what the use is. They are places of safety and a home for many. They provide seeds so people can grow gardens and flowers. They contribute to our ecosystem. They sell tomato plants so I can share my wealth from my garden with my neighbors.

Libraries help me save money. I have no need for Netflix. I have no need to buy magazines when I can check them out of our library.

My physical well being is enhanced by yoga on a lawn that stretches like a green meadow right in the center of town.

We are privy to the latest technology, programming and activities.

Books are provided to the more rural areas by the bookmobile.

People travel from thousands of miles away to search through our local history room locating friends and loved ones long forgotten.

For me, while visiting the library, there is no greater joy to see young children holding books in their chubby little hands — excited about being able to have their own book.

It is a place for videos to be checked out, for donated books and their sales to provide income for summer reading programs to take place, and for fiction and nonfiction books to be checked out.

Libraries are to be used. For minds to devour knowledge, facts and peculiarities. It is to be a place for those who cannot have books to have the right and ability to read.

I am a definition of dichotomy when describing a librarian.

I am loud. I have short hair. I do wear glasses and sometimes wear all black but might have the brightest colored scarf wrapped around my neck. I choose to be different and to break the status quo.

I like to recommend books for people to read to complete strangers. I enjoy watching the smiles on kids faces when they leave story time or a special program of magic shows and reptiles.

Libraries are gateways, not gates. They provide a world that many take for granted.

For this grown lady, they provided steps and doorways to a world I am glad to call my profession.

Libraries make communities. They contain the universal language of learning and open the doors to even more.

Lisa Johns is a former teacher and librarian as well as an activist for revitalizing downtown Winchester.