Sharlah loves the library, and so do I

Sharlah Webb, the protagonist of my novel Identity, is a big reader living on a tiny paycheck. She’s an avid user of her local public library.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the library opens her eyes to possibilities she couldn’t have imagined and changes the course of her life.

That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to find out recently about the very first library to offer Identity to its patrons — a library consortium serving southwest Louisiana.

In a way, I drew on personal experience for Sharlah’s love of the library. My childhood was nothing like Sharlah’s — hallelujah. But my family read a lot of books, and we made a lot of trips to the library in my hometown.

The Salina Public Library. (photo courtesy Chris Shuler)

When my sister got her driver’s license, she and I went to the library on our own just about every week. In fact, for a long time, whenever we started talking in the car and not really paying attention to where we were going, we ended up at the library. It was our autopilot setting.

I think the checkout limit then was seven books. In the summer, we’d each get our max and trade back and forth. I wandered the fiction shelves and chose a lot of books based on cover design or jacket copy. Some were duds; many were keepers.

Eventually I went to college and moved away; years went by without my setting foot in the Salina Public Library. A few years ago, I went back to donate some books for my mom. I’ve since spent more time there, looking for a quiet place (with WiFi) to work. They’ve moved the checkout desk, I think, and other things have been modernized. But whenever I’m in the building, I remember what it was like to be 14 years old, wandering the aisles, believing that the whole world was just waiting to be discovered.

Libraries face a lot of challenges in this era of tight budgets. I saw an article the other day that said more than 90 percent of Americans believe public libraries serve a vital function. If you’re on board with that, think about joining your local friends of the library chapter.

Maybe you can help someone else discover the wide world out there.

And if you’d like to see Identity available to library users in your hometown — maybe some big reader living on a tiny paychecks like Sharlah — ask your librarian to look into acquiring Identity through the Overdrive system.

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