I’ve always adored libraries. In first grade, our teacher brought us to the school library and the librarian explained how everything worked. Her focus was the dewey decimal system and card catalog, but what struck me like thunder was the idea that just for being a student, you got a card to take out any of the books in this big room, for FREE. I can still scarcely believe it.
Soon after, Mom took me to our local public library in Flemington, New Jersey, and I was given a card to borrow anything I wanted for free just for being a citizen. The place was huge and my tummy fluttered. How was I going to read all of these free books? Way too many for me to finish in time, before the new ones came out.
I still feel exactly that same anxiety every time I walk into a bookstore or library. When I moved to NYC, I was told by the staff member who gave me my card that I was only the second Sesta in their database, going back many years, and unsurprisingly the first Shane Sesta. The New York Public Library is, to me, a cathedral.
As we’ve traveled around the country, reliable WIFI has often been difficult to find. We are constrained to our campsite while working or writing, and it can feel constricting, especially on rainy days. So I’ve made stops in public libraries along the way. Most have not been the heavy municipal structures I am used to. I don’t know when the architectural trend started, but modern libraries are bright, open buildings, seemingly designed to maximize light and lift ceilings free of the tall stacks.
A few observations about contemporary public libraries, from the road:
I’ve already mentioned the architecture. The landscaping and artwork at many libraries are worth a look as well. Some have such great sculpture and hanging works, it's like a free visit to a museum or gallery. Books on shelves are a beautiful and inspiring setting themselves.
The WIFI at every library I have visited has been free and FAST. Extremely helpful for uploading road trip videos and hi res photos.
There are computers at every library, free for public use, so if you didn’t have one, or yours died while on the road, I guess there’s that. Also, there are printers, so if you are traveling without one, you can email yourself files and print them at the library, usually at a small fee per page.
If you are like me, one of the awesome things about Barnes & Noble, or any very large bookstore, that is seldom matched by small indie shops is the periodicals rack. The huge stands of shiny, beautiful magazine covers, titles you never imagined existed, expensive niche books, themselves works of fine craftsmanship, and a world of literary magazines make me wish I could just stay there all day drinking coffee and look through everything. Well, the library has magazine racks, with less titles (depending on the branch), but still more than you could read in a month. Here in Moab’s Grand County Library, I’m sitting near the row containing Western Horseman, Wired and the alluring Writer’s Digest.
Audio books are great for road trips. Also for exercising, commuting to work, waiting in line, airport delays, riding subways and ferries, going on a blimp. Basically whenever you don’t have hands free for a book or keyboard or motion sickness prevents you from reading. The library has many of these. If you do not have a library card for the library in question, you can’t check anything out, but you can take them over to the table where you are working. Ripping the CDs onto your computer for later listening is illegal and authors are poor enough already, so the suggestion that this is possible is not an endorsement. Lots of DVDs have also been available at every library I’ve seen. I will not make a statement endorsing ripping those onto your computer for later viewing either.
Air conditioning and heat
Yes and yes.
Four stars and up. Clean and safe.
Without exception, I've always found the staff to be smart, helpful and friendly. I've never heard of a library with bad ratings for service – are there any?
Don’t even think about it!
Kathryn Tully and Shane Sesta are a married couple, one American and one Brit, who are spending a year traveling across America and writing about their discoveries. Sonny is their rescue cat and fried chicken aficionado.