When I first moved to the USA, I did not yet have a work-permit (it would take a few months to be approved), and I was worried about becoming bored being home all day, while my then fiancee was at work. I desperately did not want to be vegging out in front of daytime TV. I was not driving at that time (for the reason why, please see my entry: Cops, Cars and a Cuppa - my first visit to the US (part 2)), so there was a limit to where I could get. I discovered that my nearest public library was within walking distance, so the first thing I did on my very first day by myself in the US was to visit my local branch, apply for a library card and look around.
Not being used to the way these types of organizations work in the US, it was a little confusing at first, especially as the first librarian I encountered was a little less than helpful. Fortunately, I got through the ordeal, and before long, I was the proud carrier of my first US library card.
Although I've been a book lover all my life, I didn't spend a lot of time in public libraries in England, with the exception of the mobile library (bookmobile) that I spent a lot of time in as a child. That was to change once I moved to Edison, New Jersey. I became so involved with my local library that I soon became an active member of my local Friends of the Library group, a nonprofit organization formed to support the activities of the library by supplementing the dwindling public funding they receive. I'm now proud to be the President of that group.
Libraries can be a great source of information, education and entertainment for new US residents. English as a second language (ESL) classes, information about immigration procedures, help and resources for finding jobs, computers with Internet access, expert reference librarians, as well as programs, newspapers, books and movies are among typical library offerings. Our libraries are especially important in times of economic hardship, the very time when public funding is usually reduced. There was a great piece recently on the Diane Rehm radio show about this.
I was alarmed to read today about the imminent CPSIA laws, which looked set to prevent us from selling used children's books at our annual fundraising book sales. Fortunately, a public outcry to the ambiguously worded and poorly publicized laws resulted in a clarification by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and it looks like it will not affect our sales after all. Still, there may be implications for libraries because new books do seem to be included in these regulations.