Please Do Not Remove: In Support of Public Libraries

words // Angi Palm

Ask any of today’s librarians about their early memories of visiting libraries as children and most of them will tell you about the way their fingers crept along the bindings of books, discovering title after title, intrigue after intrigue. They may remember the strings of Dewey Decmial call numbers that flashed beneath the books’ thin, plastic coverings and the gleaming overhead lighting. The may recall roaming the stacks as if caught in a labyrinth, each turn looking oddly like the last and dead ends everywhere. Many of them will recall the colored check-out cards in each book’s front cover, inserted into slim manilla envelopes and removed only when a book was checked out. Often, these books’ cards were filled with signatures, penned by the hands of patrons in ink or lead, while other books remained unborrowed for years, their check-out cards pristine.

Libraries are still places of discovery for minds both young and old, but they are changing as technology and community needs change. Marty Reid, director of Vermont’s Department of Libraries, notes the uncertain future of the role and landscape of libraries. “E-books and digital resources have an increasing presence in library collections. The library’s place as a community center for learning is nothing new, but now that learning includes digital literacy, use of mobile devices, WiFi, and ‘maker spaces.’”

Reid also notes the changing privacy laws that libraries must honor, reaclling the due date stamps “perched at the end of the librarian’s pencil when she checked out your books” and imagining the readers who’d previously borrowed a book. Scanning that list of readers and stumbling upon the name of a friend, family member, or another acquaintance is no longer possible. Reid says  that “today we have good laws in place that protect our personal reading history from prying eyes (or surveillance!), but that doesn’t change the fact that we liked knowing who had read those books before we did. Even if you are not at an age where you have personal experience with these past practices, you can appreciate the appeal. The names on those book cards spoke to us with the message, ‘I read and enjoyed this book, too.’”

A similar curiosity and appreciation prompted me to create Please Do Not Remove, a collection of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction written by twenty Vermont authors. Each piece in the book is inspired by a specific library check-out card. Many works in the book incorprate elements depicted on the cards in full-page, color spreads. The book is a celebration of libraries and of literature, reminding us of the past and transforming that past into something new, just as today’s libraries must do as their resources, roles, and priorities change. The collection is published by Wind Ridge Books of Vermont, a small press that focuses on creating charitable partnerships between the publisher, the author, and the author’s charity of choice. Ten percent of Please Do Not Remove’s net proceeds will benefit the Vermont Library Association as they support the state’s 183 public libraries—more per capita than any other state.