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Editorial: Check this out

I've spent more time in libraries over the past month than I did in the nearly 12 years since I graduated from college.

From a story about the increased use libraries are seeing in a down economy to ongoing coverage of Rosemount's new library all of a sudden the lending and borrowing of books of books has come to play a significant role in my life. I'm like LeVar Burton without the Reading Rainbow theme song.

This is mildly surprising, because I've never been much of a library person. My last significant library experience before this year was during the fall of my junior year in college. I was researching a report for a class called cultural politics and practice and made my way to the New Orleans Public Library in search of information. Calling the experience traumatic might be overstating things, but navigating the information system at the New Orleans library in the mid-1990s was not exactly an advertisement for library use. This was back before everything in the universe was available online. There was a green-glowing monitor prominently involved. There was no mouse. There were nests of databases so dense I'm not sure Harry Houdini could have untangled them.

Actually, I am going with traumatic. I think my professor gave me extra credit for even attempting to make sense of it all.

After that, I pretty much stayed away. I've had brief experiences here and there. On the rare occasions I've asked them to find something for me the reference staff at the Dakota County Library in Farmington has been helpful enough I've nearly stopped having those recurring nightmares about the New Orleans system, most of which end with me waking in a sweat and screaming something about command prompts.

For the most part, though, I've stayed away. Books, it's always seemed to me, are something personal. If the spine of a book is broken I want to know I was the one who broke it. If the pages are dogeared and highlighted I want to know it's because I found something noteworthy there. And if I lose the thing I'd like to know an elite Bookmobile-based SWAT team won't come kicking down my door looking for restitution.

Libraries are pretty serious about their books.

After spending so much time at the library lately, though, I've started to feel like I'm missing out. That's why a a couple of weeks ago I walked down the street to the library and signed up for the first library card I've had in my wallet since I was in elementary school.

I'm still not quite sure what to make of my library experience. The Hennepin County Library near my house is clean and modern and bright. There is plenty of open space, but as I looked around I mostly found myself wondering: Where are the books? After more than a decade of browsing the banquet offered by the world's Barnes and Nobles and Amazons I wasn't sure what to make of this appetizer of a fiction section that squeezed into about half a dozen shelves.

I found a book, though. And I've even found enough time to read I might actually finish before I have to return.

All I ask is that the librarians ignore the broken spine and the dogeared pages.