Library Cards and Equality
Natalia J. Garland
Although I do most of my research over the internet, I still
love books and libraries. Libraries are safe places, filled
with information and knowledge, and librarians are usually
great people. Speaking of librarians, first lady Laura Bush
gave a speech for National Library Week. She described
libraries as places of equality and stated that, "...I
have found the most valuable item in my wallet to be my
But, let's face
it, libraries are not cool (not in the usual sense of the
word). Cool can be merely fashionable, or cool can be
counter-cultural and even antisocial. Cool is probably an
American invention, probably originating as a side-effect of
American jazz and rock 'n' roll music cultures.
Cool is an attitude and, at worst, the attitude is one of
unfounded and arbitrary superiority.
Many of my
alcoholic and drug addict patients have had an attitude of
cool. They may have started abusing alcohol and drugs to fit
in with the cool crowd, to belong, to feel whole. Cool is so
attractive on the surface. The veneer hides the structural
flaws. If only they could live life over, some addicts would
probably gladly trade their first line of cocaine for a
without exception that my patients will always insist that
everybody in their schools was abusing alcohol and
drugs. Upon further questioning, they will begin to admit
that, well, maybe not everybody abused alcohol and
drugs. Maybe some of their classmates did homework at
night, or watched television with siblings, or, you guessed
it, went to the library on Saturday afternoons.
What they really
mean when they say everybody abused alcohol and drugs
is: everybody who was cool. They wanted desperately to
be a part of the cool crowd, so they began abusing alcohol and
drugs, too. They sacrificed their academic potential, their
place in society, their future--all in the name of cool.
I do not mean to
sound overly simplistic. I realize that many college students
also abuse alcohol and drugs, and college students do have an
acquaintance with the library. A library card is not a cure.
I am talking about books and libraries as a lifestyle with
both practical and intrinsic rewards. I am thinking more in
terms of the acquisition of helpful information, reading as a
positive leisure activity, and academic pursuit as a lifelong
In my work, I
have often encouraged patients to get a library card. I
encourage those who are illiterate to take adult reading
classes (which are offered for free at, you guessed it, the
public library). I explain the benefits of visiting the
library: books, magazines, videos, D.V.D.'s, computers, a
sober environment, a place where the unemployed can spend
some constructive time, an opportunity to get away from a
dysfunctional household. I try to encourage the reading of
novels as a positive way to escape the stress of daily living.
My encouragement, however, meets with only small success.
library seems to be a habit that has to be developed early in
life. Not all people enjoy reading, anyway. The sad thing
for the youth who are deceived by the false promises of
alcohol and drugs is that they may never get another chance to
decide for themselves whether reading books is for them, or
whether they could be happier with a different group of
friends. By the time they enter treatment--if they
enter treatment--getting a library card may not seem like
getting a free ticket into the world of equality.
Whenever I see
a patient reading a newspaper or a paperback novel as they sit
in the waiting room, I take heart. When a patient enters my
office and recommends a book to me, I am thrilled to read that
book and use it as a reference point in the therapy session.
Reading is a personal quest. I believe that those who read a
book even occasionally, will somehow live a more inspired life
than those without the printed word.
(Written 07/01/02 - Revised 12/01/03: bibliography available.)
Until we meet