Thursday, October 11, 2012

Where the Sidewalk Ends, Our Library Closes, Part One

It is with a heavy heavy heart that I write these words.  Elliot and I have to say goodbye to our library at the end of this month.  It feels like amputation.

It feels like amputation because the City of Greensboro has decided to repurpose the bookmobile, The Reading Railroad, into a mobile nature education classroom which will be run by the parks and recreation department.

Many of my loyal readers understand how much I value nature and especially the importance of connecting children with as many natural encounters as possible.  For goodness sake, we named our home school "Learning Free and in the Wild" because of Elliot's love of nature biology.  His transition from traditional public school was influenced by the fact while he was in school,  he was only allowed fifteen minutes a day to play outside, and only if the weather was warm, clear and dry.

I believe in the necessity of a child's exposure to their natural surroundings on a daily basis.  We have spent entire days hiking trails during the Audobon Society's Big Back Yard Bird Count and identified over 300 birds in one afternoon.  Elliot hiked Stone Mountain in North Carolina when he was five.  He was tired, and he complained, but he finished.

Our son loves the natural world and is deeply concerned about it's protection.

Our sadness is in no way diminished by the idea of a new mobile classroom that aims to teach nature to children through books and caged animals.

I say, if a child wants to learn about nature, take him OUTSIDE.

There are over 90 miles of trails within the city limits, some of which connect to the Mountains to Sea trail that spans over 1,000 miles.  There are ten large parks, and numerous neighborhood parks.  There are three large public lakes, and several private lakes.  In this city, every child has room to play outside and experience nature on a daily basis.

If you have ever visited Greensboro or live here, you might say that the city and its surrounding areas look like a garden, part manicured and cultivated, part wild natural wilderness.  It's a place that you can connect with people while also finding solitude in nature.

Even in the inner city areas.  Even downtown.

In contrast, there is one Central library, and six branch locations.  Several of the branches, including Central library, are in locations that only the brave soul dare enter.  I can speak from direct experience having worked at one of these branch locations near the Coliseum and lost my job triggered by the event of a gangster pointing a semi automatic weapon at the staff and teens in search of his target; after which I took a medical leave of absence and returned later to discover that my position was terminated, no matter that I had a doctor's note stating the legitimate reason for my absence, which included stress from the assault incident in which a homeless patron attempted to strangle me to death for closing the building. While I worked at this location, I had to call the police nearly every single night for gang related activity. I lobbied for security and it was REPEATEDLY DENIED.

 Yes, there was grounds for a major lawsuit.  No, I did not follow up on that, but decided to take my career into my own loving, caring hands.

Yet that history has not taken from me my love of books, my love of libraries, or the devoted people who work hard every single day to share the world through literature and words to all people, regardless of their status or situation in life.

I care about libraries in the way I care about my family, about my church, about our nation.

Deeply. In a committed relationship sort of way.

So to just say "cest' la vie" and "au revoir" with a tissue at the corner of my eye is not my style.

I'm touchy, angry, and sad.

But mostly, despite that the mobile library here in my area was a portal to the world of books for Elliot and I in our home schooling journey, I will miss the people.

I will miss Carolyn Powell.

If ever there was a woman with a heart for all children, genuinely interested in their lives, it is Carolyn.  She has made a PROFOUND impression on Elliot, who struggled with reading and writing in his early years at school, but who is now bounding through chapter books and sitting for long periods, completely engrossed in the world of words.   While he sits on the bench in the Reading Railroad, he's so involved that he arrives at the counter saying "sorry it took me so long."

One day last month, before our weekly visit to the Reading Railroad, I purchased a box of  Entemann's donuts for Elliot as a reward, and he decided to share them with Carolyn and Sandra (a faithful volunteer...stay tuned for the next post to meet Sandra and Geneva, the other wonderful librarian) , with no prompting from me.  If you knew Elliot personally, you would know that a donut is more precious commodity around here than LEGO.  He doesn't even like to share donuts with me!  Carolyn has made such an impression on my son that she feels like a part of our family.  She has helped Elliot to feel great about being at the library, about books, about himself.  And I appreciate her because she makes me feel good too; more connected to society...homeschooling can be lonely for moms.  I have looked forward to our Thursday library visits more than big field trips or the rare moments of solitude I'm afforded at the Y during a work out.  I appreciate her open friendship, her knowledge, the way that she cares.  This is our library, this is where our sidewalk ends and our journey into friendship and the world of books begins.  You can't find this online, in a brick and mortar branch location, or at Central.  This is personal, intimate, needed, LOVED.

Please stay tuned next week for part two, to meet Geneva and Sandra.  We plan to stay connected despite this transition.  The last day that the Reading Railroad is scheduled to be open is Thursday, October 24th.

But this will not be the end of our relationships, or our love of books.  Despite erroneous, corrupt, misguided politics, no one can take that away.

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