Open Books

How the library persevered a young mother's sanity and enriched her life


Editor’s Note: This Open Mic essay was written in response to Leilani Clark’s Dec. 23 news story on Sonoma County library closures.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was terrified. Not knowing many other women who were pregnant or had young children, I was bereft of first-hand accounts and information about what was normal and what was to be expected. Panicking, I went to my local bookstore and filled my arms with volumes on pregnancy and babies, books I could not afford. I put the books back feeling defeated. Then I got smart and headed straight to my local public library. I found the same books there that I had at the bookstore and a few more, hooray! Ecstatic, I headed home with a ton of free information to help me with my pregnancy.

Once a month I dutifully returned the old books and checked out new ones in a frenzy of information absorption on pregnancy and caring for a baby. (I admit, I got a library rush and became obsessed for a time.) After my daughter was born I continued to go to the library, getting books on childrearing and parenting, even finding my way to the fiction section for some leisurely reading.

Yet I still didn’t have close friends who could tell me the things the books couldn’t. There was no one who could give a knowing nod when I complained about my failure at getting the baby to sleep or the overwhelming feeling of responsibility over a tiny human being, and no other babies I could see crying or fussing or peeing all over themselves and their mother, frustrating her to tears.

And then I saw the flier for story time at the library.

From the time my daughter was five months old up until she began preschool, we went to story time at the library most weeks. We would walk to the library for story time, where we would listen and sing and play. I would look across the room at the other mothers who had the same dark circles under their eyes that I had from lack of sleep, the same lost look in their eyes because we were all wingin’ it on how to take care of our babies. When story time ended, the library allowed us to stay and chat for a while. I was finally able to make friends with women who had babies, too, and who were just as starved as I was to have someone to talk to before we all went insane. I forged many strong and therapeutic bonds with the women I met at the library and made some lifelong friends for my daughter and myself.

My daughter has had access to scores of books over the years thanks to the library, books our low-income family would not have been able to purchase for her otherwise. Because of this free service, I have been able to instill a love of reading in her. But that’s not all. We get science books, cookbooks, arts and crafts books, Spanish language books, books on nutrition. For the adults there are classic literature and modern novels, biographies and books on the history of Sonoma County. We also check out DVDs on brain science, the Gold Rush or the evils of the credit card industry.

Even if we had the means to buy our daughter a ton of books, they would eventually find their way into a landfill when she outgrew them. By checking books out and then returning them to share with others we are contributing to reducing waste. The library, it’s environmental!

The library is a fine place. Ask around. The benefits to the community are immeasurable and, hey, we live in the community, right? If you haven’t been to your local branch lately—and no one has as it’s been closed for the winter holidays—now is a good time to go. Check out a novel, find a book on carpentry, surf the net, enjoy the indoor heating, get some books on tape for a long drive, look at an almanac and find Minorca. It’s all there at your library, my library, our library. When you get home, go to and hit that “donate” button so that you can help keep our community in good shape and keep the library open.

Danielle McElwee is a Santa Rosa freelance writer from Santa Rosa, stay-at-home mama and wife.

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have yourtopical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write [email protected]