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The Library: Striking a Chord

Ukulele-pictureWhen I was child I spent so much time at the library it felt like a second home. As the years passed, other pursuits such as afterschool activities and part-time jobs began to monopolize the free time I had happily spent lost in books. During high school and college the library became relegated to a more utilitarian role – a place to study in peace or conduct research. After graduating, I found my way back to using the library for fun. Yet throughout my life and wherever I go the library has always been a resource I am aware of and a place I feel welcome. I was surprised to learn that this is not a universal experience. When a friend bemoaned that she was going broke buying DVDs for her young children, I asked why she didn’t just go to the library. She said she didn’t have the time or patience to hunt for them. My recommendation that she search the online catalog and simply place holds was a revelation. Yet in all the time I was singing the praises of the library, it never occurred to me to set my sights on becoming a librarian. Luckily, I finally had a revelation of my own and enrolled in Simmons’ School of Library and Information Science.

The library has gone through a metamorphosis since I was a kid. It is now a beautiful hybrid that encompasses the traditional books of my childhood together with a host of online resources and new technology. This suits me just fine. Although I’m as likely as anyone to use Google and other internet resources, I’m a tactile person who will always love the feel of a book in my hand. I also like the idea of going to the library, browsing, and finding something I didn’t know I needed. Online tutorials are great, but for me they work in conjunction with the books, DVDs, CDs, and magazines I can find at the library. I have used these materials to research vacations, brush up on my high school Spanish, acquire computer skills, try new recipes and learn about everything from improving my writing and making jewelry to the psychology of why we do what we do, and how we can do things better. Whenever I get the yen to try something new, I include the library in my search for information.

This year my husband, who usually gets me flowers for our anniversary, surprised me with a ukulele. I laughed when I recalled how we’d been watching a TV show weeks before, and one of the characters greeted his long-lost daughter at the airport strumming a ukulele and singing a modified version of the Who’s “Teenage Wasteland.” At the time, I’d waxed philosophic about the inimitable voice of the little instrument, and how fun it would be to just pick up said instrument and put my feelings to song. I admit that by the time we’d moved on to the next episode, I’d all but forgotten my desire to improvise little ditties about the day. Now, holding the tiny body in my hands and running my fingers over its diminutive strings I loved the idea of the ukulele even more, but wondered about actually getting a proper tune out of it. Yet the longer I held it, the more it was like that puppy at the pound that you spend too much time adoring; before long you know you’re done for. So it was settled: learning the ukulele was my latest yen.

Although I identify as a self-directed learner, this particular thing seemed a bit outside my grasp. So I did what any librarian-in-training would do, and went into research mode. First, I Googled “learn ukulele” which returned an avalanche of results. Who knew? Clicking on the first link, I discovered that the site’s creator, a musician and member of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (again, who knew?) had authored a book on the subject, so my next step was to search for it in the library’s online catalog. A library in the Minuteman Network owned a copy. I then searched the catalog for just “ukulele” which revealed an array of items from Ukulele for Dummies to Ukulele: A Visual History. I found CDs, DVDs, and even a ukulele kit. I also explored the Commonwealth Catalog – which allows patrons to search outside the Minuteman Network for items in libraries across Massachusetts. More resources greeted me there, including additional ukulele kits. While I’m no stranger to the interesting items one can borrow from the library – such as Morrill’s knitting needles, cake pans, microscopes, and even Wi-Fi hotspots – I was surprised by the ukulele kits out there. Curious to learn what might prompt a library to offer a ukulele, I decided to inquire. I called one of the libraries and found that a local music store had donated it. When asked if it was popular, I learned that it gets borrowed “occasionally.” Although that library hasn’t yet offered any related programs, they would consider it if patrons showed an interest. I find it encouraging that libraries in general are broadening their scope. Now we just have to spread the word and cultivate a wider audience.

I ended up placing holds on a couple books, a DVD, and a CD from my search, which I plan to supplement with online tutorials. My penultimate semester of library school might seem a strange time to pick up a new hobby, given the hectic schedule – but I actually think it makes sense. Whenever I need a short break from my studies, I pick up the uke and strum. Who knows? I may yet master my own improvised version of “Teenage Wasteland.” Perhaps I’ll even launch a ukulele program at a library, some day. It turns out we can tackle even the things that seem a bit beyond our reach. The library waits, now as ever, to provide the resources we need.

Kirstie David is a graduate intern at Morrill Memorial Library, currently enrolled in the Simmons College School of Library and Information Science. Read Kirstie’s column in the October 20th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.
Liz Reed

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