What do you geek?

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There aren’t very many public institutions in Howell I can claim have helped me become a passionate and creative person, but the Howell Carnegie District Library is one of them. My mom always took advantage of our close proximity to the library when I was young, and my sister and I grew up surrounded by everything it had to offer. Some may disagree, but I honestly believe that immersing us into the library world at such a young age was the best parenting decision my mother ever made. Not only was I surrounded by stories I was itching to read myself, but for the first time I felt a sense of belonging. And the best part is, the Howell Carnegie District Library doesn’t just belong to me.

I’ve come to believe that the library has something to offer everyone, which is why I was extremely excited to work all summer on a campaign called, “Geek the Library.” The word geek is used as a verb, meaning “to love, to enjoy, to celebrate, to have an intense passion for,” and my job primarily was to photograph the library staff and community members for posters. For example, underneath the photograph of the library director it reads, “I geek yoga,” because yoga is her greatest passion.

Since I turned 18 and started working at the circulation desk in May, I have witnessed firsthand the diversity of library patrons. There are single mothers with several screaming children who check out books on meditation and relaxation. There are hip teenagers who check out the latest pop music and action DVDs. There are old men who talk to me about weather and check out nonfiction books on building porches and identifying native birds. There are young children who proudly sign their names to their very own library cards and finish their first book with no pictures and just words.

Because of this startling diversity, I am especially grateful that libraries exist. I think sometimes politicians or library cynics get too fixated with the thought of the future. I hear about how libraries are a thing of the past, and that because of the new technology they will soon be extinct and forgotten. These people don’t understand that libraries are evolving with the times. Instead of spending more money on traditional books, the Howell Library is expanding its eBook offerings. There are weekly programs teaching basic computer skills. There is wireless, Skype, and staff trained to help with anything from genealogy quests to job searches. It isn’t necessarily the materials inside the library like books and movies that make it so special, it’s the potential to learn new skills and develop new interests.

Libraries truly do support anything anyone could “geek” and some of the people I’ve known for years have completely surprising passions. For example, sweet Mrs. Neff who works in the Youth Services Department and does story times and reads picture books is most passionate about professional bull riding. When she told me this, I thought I didn’t hear her correctly. It came as such a shock!

Not only does the “Geek” campaign emphasize how important public libraries are to a community, it also aims to illustrate how libraries are funded. Most people have absolutely no idea. Did you know that most public library funding comes from the local community? 86 percent of the library’s revenues come from local tax revenues. Sadly, the estimated revenues have been reduced by a staggering 18 percent, which jeopardizes the functioning of the library. It’s also the reason that the library implemented a weeklong furlough for the third year in a row.

In one week, I’ll be moving from Howell to Kalamazoo to start my undergraduate schooling at Kalamazoo College. After I toured the dorms, cafeteria, pool and classrooms, my student tour guide took us to see the library. It’s a beautiful, modern building with multiple stories and big windows. I could immediately see myself spending time there. Maybe the cynics are right. Maybe libraries won’t exist forever. Maybe there is no dire need for them like there is for hospitals and grocery stores. Maybe we could exist without them. But what those people don’t understand is that libraries enhance our quality of life. They fulfill our desire to learn and grow. They give us hope. It would be a terrible thing if the public library ceased to exist and with it the ability to pursue our passions.

What do you geek?