Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 6, 2011

Books and Community

Books are magic.

This childhood belief is still with me today. And since books are found in the library, libraries are magic, too. At the main branch of my hometown library, I would trot down those white steps to the Children’s section, where they had all these books JUST FOR ME.

When I was a little older, I would ride my bike to the local library branch. It was only as big as two and a half garages, but I loved going in there. It was intimate and I knew where all my favorite books lived, which only reinforced the feeling that IT WAS MINE. My Camp Fire Girl troop decorated it for Christmas every year, and that bolstered this feeling of possession.

Even in college, when the library was on a much grander scale, I would walk though the doors and a peace would settle on me. The library calmed me, sheltered me, and educated me. I felt, in a word, WELCOME.

Libraries have always evoked a sense of belonging. That they belonged to you and you somehow belonged to them. Before the Internet, I spent hours there, as did my peers. Libraries were a community hub, and even today they reach out to the community in various ways and try to fill the needs of their patrons.

When I lived in Chincoteague, VA, last year, one of the first community events I attended was the dedication of the new wing of the library. My baby girl and I were frequent visitors there, always welcomed warmly into the beautiful children’s room the addition housed. That gorgeous addition, built to echo a lighthouse, was the direct result of years of support and fundraising from the local island community.

So for me, books and community have always gone together. Independent bookstores, too, have always evoked this feeling in me. I think that what makes most indies comfortable to me is their size, which is usually on the smaller end of the retail scale. They are eminently browseable, and permeated with the love of books. And so many of them are active supporters of their local communities, as well as hosting book-related groups and author appearances within their walls.

Even though I am a book-lover from way back, when I first heard about the Collingswood Book Festival from author friends Keith Strunk and Marie Lamba, I had my doubts about going. What could a sprawling 6-block bookfest offer to someone like me – shy, easily overwhelmed in crowds, and toting a toddler? Wouldn’t it just feel like a huge garage sale? But I decided to go to support my friends and their fellow Liars Club members Merry Jones, Gregory Frost, Kelly Simmons, Solomon Jones, and Keith DeCandido.

I loved it.

It was book overload, but in a great way. I could have spent the entire day there, browsing, listening to panels, and just enjoying the community. Did I say community? Yes, I did. The Collingswood Book Festival was a community affair through and through, with kid-oriented LoompaLand as well as music and the usual fest-type foods. Unfortunately, I could only stay a short time because of my toddler, but I will be back next year, hopefully toddler-free, to browse the day away. For another view of the Book Festival (with pictures!), visit my friend J. Thomas Ross’ blog.

Books can transport you to faraway places—and they can bring local communities closer together.

Books are magic.

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Responses

  1. OOOH, so wish I could have made it!

    Like

  2. The community of readers and writers is an awesome group. Great post, Kerry. And thanks for including the mention and link! Very much appreciated.

    Like


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