Libraries sparked my early love affair with books. My second grade teacher at E. J. Marshall Elementary School held reading contests to keep bookworms like me busy over the summer. A favorite childhood memory is Mom taking me to the Chino Library. I’d arrive with reading list in hand and check out the maximum, ten books, with my Junior Library Card. I can close my eyes and see that light oak card catalog, feel the cool metal handle polished to a shine by hundreds of little hands, remember worrying I would drop that super long-skinny card catalog drawer on my foot. I loved that stubby, dull, half-pencil to scribble out the Dewey decimal number on a scrap of white paper, then taking that treasure map to my next adventure.
It was a special day when my first novella was placed in the J. Thomas McCarthy Library on the Doheny campus of Mount St. Mary’s University, my alma mater. A few years post college, I returned for an alumni function. Arriving early, I took the chance to spy my book sitting on their shelf. There it was! It was more than an idea in my head. It now existed, on its own, in the big wide world. It provided a much needed sense of reality to the book and my years long effort behind it. I didn’t have an agent, or actual book sales, but I had squatters’ rights within the borders of the literary landscape.
Due to these impactful childhoods young(ish) adult experiences, my writing practice today includes regular use of libraries. A quick glance at the website calendars of most Inland Empire libraries provides ample places to catch a reading, attend a writing workshop, or simply gain access to computers and printers. A Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, writer’s edition, would have these three forming the base of the pyramid.
Your other needs?
The other levels? Those can be constructed using the creative programming of regional libraries. Services from local libraries are born out of local needs and values. As each connects in a unique way to the people served, any writer that wishes to be part of the community must find ways to actively participate. While not comprehensive, the examples here can provide some early direction, a map to your own adventure. Where you go from here, what you build for you, is available to you now. For free, no less!
Book Club Hack
I developed my love of books through schools and the libraries that materially support them. I developed my skills as a writer in writing workshops. They provided plenty of what I required: exposure to different writing practices and processes. Corona Public Library has a “go bag” that fits those needs perfectly. Called “Book Club Kits”, these are to writing as Blue Apron is to cooking. They can easily be hacked to fit your writers’ group. These books both inspire and inform your writing through textual analysis. These kits include copies of your selected literary work, a notebook with question prompts to keep you on track, and background about the author.
As a writer, you will eventually need to connect with media to promote your work. Social media posts will not suffice! The Idyllwild branch of the Riverside County Library System has a unique weekly event involving their local paper, the Idyllwild Town Crier. Each Wednesday morning they make themselves available to discuss news with the community. This gives you as a writer a low stress way to meet and discuss your projects with editors and writers who may want to write about you as an artist or review your latest book. Knowing more about the needs of your local media will make it easier to identify an audience for your work.
Festival of Writes
Another way to mix it up writers, gain useful advice, and connect with agents and mentors to support your work is by attending a book festival. For nearly a decade, Ontario Community Life and Culture Agency, in partnership with the Ontario Public Library, has hosted the wildly popular “Teen Book Fest”. The annual event, happening again April 4th, 2020, puts aspiring writers into direct contact with successful authors in the Young Adult, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. By far the best attended session is something called “Speed Dating”. In this fast moving and exhilarating hour and a half, attendees are placed into small groups. Each of the featured writers, brought in from around the country, spends five minutes at each table, giving you the ability to pepper them with questions to your heart’s content.
My final advice to writers on how to use the library: Get involved. Become a volunteer. Make suggestions. If you don’t find a service you want, help create it. Writers have a unique and necessary perspective on the services these public spaces provide. They always welcome volunteers and new ideas. While helping bring the mission of the library to life, you will gain opportunities to run into like-minded people, people who value the written word as well as the values that support and expand the franchise to every human being in the community.
About Larry Burns
Larry Burns teaches English at Riverside City College. His latest book, Secret Inland Empire: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, is available at your local bookseller and your local library.
Below is the original blog that I wrote in the weekly column, “Inlandia Literary Journeys in The Press-Enterprise.