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Library Cards and Equality

Natalia J. Garland

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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 library card."

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 library card.

It seems 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 commitment.

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.

Visiting the 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 again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2002, 2003 Natalia J. Garland