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St. Joe’s new library is a modern-day utopia

| Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Emma Kirner

Grandma pulled up in her grey Toyota, the letters “BKS4ME” etched across her license plate. As my neighbors and I loaded into her backseat in our plaid uniforms, she handed us each a baggie of apple slices and a book to read. “God’s Mailbox,” “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” or something a little more mature for the older kids like “The Giver” — the list goes on and on as Grandma produced an infinite amount of literature to keep us preoccupied on the short ride home. 

Grandma is a retired librarian, and her house is a makeshift library. It’s much larger than my school’s tiny one they converted from a janitorial closet and slightly smaller than my hometown’s, which sat next to town hall and always smelled like the inside of an old hat. But no matter the size of the library, wherever there were books, I was happy.  

If 6-year-old me were to describe her ideal utopia, it would be the new St. Joe County Public Library that re-opened this Sunday. Huge, spacious, colorful and bright — there is something for everyone within its brick walls. 

On Nov. 14, a large line of masked visitors eagerly awaited for the door of the new library to finally open, pouring onto Main Street and into the cold air. The customers were all shapes, sizes and ages, from babies strapped into strollers to elderly couples. All were stuffed into winter jackets, their eyes wide as they took in the three levels and various brightly lit, clean spaces all lined with books, magazines, movies and an extensive comic book collection. 

As the other visitors and I shifted past the entrance, the many workers greeted us cheerfully. “We’ve been waiting for two years for this exact moment where we could open the doors to everyone,” said Jennifer Kennedy, the chief engagement officer at the new library. “I think every single staff member here is overjoyed to finally welcome the public.”

This sense of joy was palpable, not only in the kind and welcoming library staff, but in the faces of the young children. The whimsical kids’ section of the new library features not only various shelves of books in both Spanish and English, but a whole room dedicated to play-space for kids to make-believe. 

Hadley and Vivian, ages four, bounced up and down as they saw the miniature versions of shops and houses where they could pretend to be anything they wanted. Their favorite part of the library, they commented, was being able to play.

Colleen, age nine and dressed in a purple shirt that read “Reading can take you anywhere,” skimmed through the large junior readers’ section. “I was so excited to come here, because it was closed for two years,” Colleen exclaimed. 

“Reading is fun,” Amir, age six, said. “And it’s all about making your imagination.”

Libraries are not just a place to find books. They are a place to play, let loose and imagine. When we are reading a book, we are no longer bogged down by our various assignments. We are magicians, presidents, astronauts and aliens. We are anything and everything we want to be. 

The kids’ section takes up about half of the spacious first floor, which also features a teen section with games such as ping-pong and checkers along with an auditorium and a ballroom. The upstairs has a collection of study spaces and computer labs. And of course, the entire library features shelves upon shelves of books of every genre and age group. 

The sparkling, spacious new library has something for everyone, whether you are a lover of “The Boxcar Children,” a nonfiction nerd or just need a quiet place to finish some work. Though not everyone will leave the building with a book, they will definitely leave with a smile. At least, I know I did. 

I smiled not just because I was excited for the community of South Bend to have this amazing space, but because the atmosphere inside the new library brought a wave of nostalgia to me. Suddenly, I was back in my hometown of Fenton, MO, crouched in the tiny library after a long day at school (multiplication timetables can be exhausting). I was raised on the sarcastic quips of Rick Riordan’s Annabeth Chase, the simple yet magical stories of C.S. Lewis and the jumbled jargon of Dr. Seuss. Books were my escape. Reading was my therapy. And libraries — libraries were my home.

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About Gracie Eppler

Gracie Eppler is a freshman and is thankful that she has four more years to figure out what her major will be. She is from St. Louis, Missouri and lives in Flaherty Hall.

Contact Gracie