A Salute to Our Public Libraries

A tale of one man’s return to his local library.

This past weekend, I pulled up to the curbside pickup spot at the Northside Public Library in Kenosha. Wendy Arbuckle, the librarian, came walking out the door a second later with a cup of coffee in one hand and a paper bag in the other.

I rolled down my window. “You got the product, baby?”

She handed over the bag. “If by ‘product,’ you mean a biography of Ted Kaczynski and a manual of homeopathic fungal infection remedies, then yes, Archer, I have the product. And never call me baby again.”

“Oh hell yeah – you got the good stuff,” I said, taking the books from her hands and tossing them quickly into the backseat, just in case any narcs were watching.

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“You know we’re actually open now, right?” she said. “You can go inside if you want.”

My eyes went wide. “Baby, are you serio—”

She threw her coffee in my face and walked away.

I sat soaked and steaming, wondering if the only reason she had brought the coffee with her was for that gag at my expense. Luckily, I always keep a full change of clothes in my car, ever since the last hitchhiker incident, so I quickly changed in the backseat and stepped out into the parking lot.

Had she been telling the truth? Was the library really back?

I walked up to the door, where a sign read, “The Kenosha Public Library is open again. We’re so happy to welcome you back! Well, most of you. Some of you were pains in the ass, honestly. Also, face coverings required.”

I returned to my car and pulled on the bloody ski mask from my glove compartment. I crossed the parking lot, and the automatic doors parted for me. There it was, just as I had left it – the library in all its glory.

“Hi, Archer,” the books said. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Hi, Books,” I said. “You guys can talk now?”

“No, you’re just suffering a vivid hallucination indicative of serious psychosis.”

I laughed. “Books, man, you’re always joshing me.”

I walked into the stacks and started browsing the selections. Buying books online is ok, if you know what you want, but nothing beats actually looking through the shelves. You find new authors, unexpected sequels, stories and subjects you never would have considered if you hadn’t seen them here. It’s the magic of the spines – your eyes flying from one title to the next, spotting interesting cover art, getting caught on a good hook, and pretty soon your biggest regret is that you physically can’t carry all the books you want to read.

Within ten minutes, my stack of books was nearly as tall as me.

“Jeez, Archer that stack of books is nearly as tall as you,” Wendy said, as I brought my selection to the front desk. “Although, that isn’t nearly as impressive as it sounds, considering how short and also ugly and gross you are.”

Clearly, Wendy was still a little miffed about the whole “baby” thing.

She handed over my books, and I took them out to the car. There was an immense satisfaction in placing that wobbling tower of literature on the passenger seat for the first time in nine months.

When I was a toddler, my parents took me to the library “Story Hour,” every week, where I sat amidst a crowd of likeminded young intellectuals appreciating the fine art of narrative and occasionally drooling on ourselves. It was at those story hours that I learned the joy and satisfaction of good storytelling and humor.

And once I learned to read, I was there nearly every day. The library sparked and subsequently fueled the fundamental interests in my life – reading and writing. Studying English, going into journalism, writing this goofy column right here, everything I’ve done stemmed from the amazing books I got at the library.

So I feel it necessary to emphasize beyond a shadow of a doubt that the library is the absolute best. 10 out of 10. When I drove home that day with my pile of books, I was ecstatic to have finally witnessed the return of this great institution – Kenosha is better off for it. And if I ever win a Nobel Prize or stand before a federal judge, I’ll be sure to thank the Kenosha Public Library for making me who I am.

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Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.