Gloria from Marque, Texas

The headline read:  “Local Woman Receives Free Education Valued at $50,000.00!”  At least, that’s how the headline would read if someone asked me to write an article about how the library has affected my life.

I first encountered this amazing phenomenon, known as a library, at the tender age of seven when my father took me to our tiny local public library to check out my very first book.  There were hundreds of books crammed into that tiny space, which made my choice all the more difficult.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered the librarian was actually going to let me take the book home.  I understood, of course, the book wasn’t mine to keep; I would have to return it.  But then I could get another book, and another one after that.  I figured I’d be at least 92 by the time I finished reading them all.  And that was my goal; to read every single book—not counting the whole stack of new ones they received every year.  The most amazing part, however, was that I didn’t even need to pay for these books—all I needed was a library card.

Throughout my school years, I spent countless hours at the library; studying reference books, magazines and encyclopedias in order to complete my homework assignments.  There was a staggering amount of knowledge contained within the walls of that small building; and it was all free for the taking.

When I grew older and became a young parent, I learned parenting skills, taught myself how to knit baby booties for my infant son, gathered facts about nutrition, collected recipes for creative family meals, and discovered fun craft projects—all from books I found at my local library.

As a homeowner, I frequented the how-to section where I learned to wire a lamp, repair a leaky faucet, plant a vegetable garden, build a deck, decorate my home, and install a ceramic tile floor in my bathroom.

During my more mature years, I took advantage of the wide variety of information found in the self-help section of the library: diet and exercise for an ever decreasing metabolic rate, the trauma of an unexpected divorce, the inevitable health issues that come with aging, and dealing with the death of a loved one.

With the invention of the Word Wide Web, much of this information is also available online; but sitting in an office chair at a desk and fighting the glare from a computer screen doesn’t begin to compare with relaxing in my comfortable recliner with a book on my lap; lit by the soft, warm light of my favorite reading lamp.

And speaking of cozying up with a good book, how could I possibly estimate the many hours of entertainment I’ve enjoyed as I progressed through a variety of fiction genres:  historical fiction, Western, romance, fantasy, thriller and murder mysteries?  Those books provided a lifetime of beloved characters that became old friends.

No matter how hard Hollywood tries, the movie version of a story is never as good as the book.  But if I did want to watch an occasional movie, I could get one of those at the library, too.  And it wouldn’t cost me a single penny.

Of all the cards I carry in my wallet, the ones I’m most concerned about safeguarding are my credit cards, my driver’s license and my social security card.  I never even considered granting such status to my library card.  In retrospect, however, I realize my library card was actually the most important card of all.  It was the key that unlocked an invaluable source of knowledge and entertainment.

Perhaps my original estimate for the value of the education I received from the library is too low.  That vast storehouse of information played a vital role in my personal development.  It has affected almost every aspect of my life.  How do you calculate the value of a lifetime of learning?  It’s priceless.

Behold the power of one simple card—a library card that is.  Oh, and did I mention…it’s FREE?