Last month I attended an annual literary festival co-sponsored by the county public library. The event lasted a week, offering face-to-face meetings between the authors and the readers. As a reader and writer, I benefit a great deal from free events like this. Since I came to America two years ago I have become an avid English reader. Partly because of my Master’s program, partly—and I would say mainly—because of the conveniences the local library provides to the residents.
While I was frustrated about the limited collection in my university’s library, my senior classmate suggested to me that I should apply for a library card at the public library. “There you’ll find the titles you want without any trouble,” she told me. I thanked her for introducing me to the public library in America. I was amazed at the fast speed of the circulation system and the simple procedure of the user application. Above all, it was free.
Compared with the public library in my home city in China., America’s system is wonderful. In China, I have to pay a membership fee or deposit for a library card. If I want access to the rare book sections or specialized collections, I have to prove who I am in relation to my education and working background. All the red tape turned me off from entering the library, let alone borrowing books from there.
Taking advantage of the easy library access here, I’ve read more books than at any time in my life. Americans are lucky to have a good public library system. In Guangzhou, China, with a population of 10 million people, there are only two major public libraries. Both of them are downtown, close to one another. But in Fairfax County, Va., where I am living now, with a population of 1.1 million people, there are more than a dozen public libraries in the same network, not to mention residents in Fairfax County can also access the e-libraries in the neighboring counties and in Washington D.C. after obtaining their library cards.
What a huge contrast!
No wonder Chinese readers have tended to be book collectors – there’s no easy access to books like there is here. But with the help of various forms of e-readers, Chinese readers now can also access their favorite novels through the Internet, usually for little or no cost.
I now understand why some elderly Americans say they have grown up and grown old with their public libraries.