Alibi V.25 No.27 • July 7-13, 2016 

Culture Shock

Oh, the Places You Will Go

The Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Public Library's departure from the everyday

During meager times in Baltimore I quickly came to understand with little abstraction that nothing is free in this world—not even a place to sit down. I passed whole days in the city park unless it was raining, the anarchist bookstore when it was, but more often than not, I spread my pencils, my notebooks and my books on a big table at the public library. With a clarity that was new at the time, but that I have not lost since, I realized how important and rare a space like the public library is—where you can have something for nothing, where you can sit, work and read unguardedly.

“It's a comfortable, welcoming space that feels safe and it feels like its yours,” Dean Smith, the Director of the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Public Library explained. He construes the public library as a kind of “third space”—not your home, not your place of employment, but a place that's part of the community, where all are welcomed and feel comfortable spending time and taking up the space, without the onus of picking up the bill on your way to the exit. “In a lot of communities, we don't have town squares, we don't have court houses where people gather and share, so in many places, the public library is now it,” Smith continued as we sat in the upstairs offices of the main branch, windows looking outward to a not yet fully awake Downtown. An avid reader and an ever enthusiastic patron of the library, I felt as though I was accessing the most secret rooms and annals of a space that has been close to my heart ever since I touched down in Albuquerque.

In that vein, let me take this opportunity to mention the multitude of things available solely through the public library that you may not be aware of. Did you know that you can check out novelty cake pans? Or how about kilowatt meters to measure the electricity you use at home?

That space, that I thought was so familiar to me, is even more expansive than I realized. Our local library hosts more than 300 public events every month for all ages. On top of that, two locations—the main library and the Unser and Central branch—possess what's been dubbed “Trep Centers,” that is, informal spaces that support the development of budding entrepreneurs and local businesses. “It's highlighting all of our existing resources, pulling them together, with staff for reference … pairing our traditional resources that will help a small business with all the resources that are Downtown,” Smith explained. As such, the library provides not just physical space to work and plan, but also creates a bridge between individuals and the wealth of goods and support systems available to them that they might not yet be aware of.

In that vein, let me take this opportunity to mention the multitude of things available solely through the public library that you may not be aware of. Did you know that you can check out novelty cake pans? Or how about kilowatt meters to measure the electricity you use at home? Were you aware that you can stream ad-free music on your phone or computer for free with your library card, and even download songs for keeps? Or check out a pass to a local museum that allows you to get in for free? These are just a few of the literal ocean of materials and services that are at your fingertips when you apply for that slim piece of plastic called a library card. “The only mistake that people can make is to not make use of their public library, to not have a card, and to not ask if we have something that they're looking for,” Smith said. And really, you might as well ask, because who knows what other shrouded treasures the library has in its county-wide reaches.

If you can't find what you're looking for, reaching out is easy. “We don't purchase our collection assuming we know what the customer wants,” Cindy Burns, the Branch and Customer Services Director explained. “We buy things that people make recommendations for.” Because, effectively, the library is yours. It is something that both Burns and Smith continually returned to over the course of our conversation—that as individuals we might not be able to afford a collection of novelty cake pans or a library of 1.2 million books and other materials, but by pooling our resources we are able to share these incredible assets, which is particularly important when it comes to equalizing access to technology—“There's a whole mix of people who rely on us [for these] resources … They might be low-income, they might be homeless … it allows them to access friends and family, to access news and information [and] to book appointments. There is no Medicare office, immigration office, no IRS office, that you can go into and use computers [to fill out mandatory paperwork],” Smith continued.

And, whether you love Jane Austen and Annie Proulx (as Smith does) or Margaret Atwood (like Burns), the library, not least of all, has books. Millions of them. Whether turning a page or downloading music, baking a cake shaped like Spongebob Squarepants or watching online tutorials (see lynda.com)—the library still, after all these years perusing the stacks—has the ability to surprise and—yes, I'm a geek and I'm going to go there—thrill. It's all yours, and it's as easy as grabbing your library card and making your way to one of the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County's 18 locations.