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The Many Things You Don’t Know About DPL: Or The 5 Library Languages

By Kristie L. Smith Nikitin

I was overwhelmed when I reported for duty on my first day. Admittedly, I had only been in DPL a handful of times in the four years I have lived in Decatur. But, if you’ve been in one library, you’ve been in them all, right? My most vivid public library memory is nearly getting kicked out by Mrs. Teall, because Chris, Lori and I were looking at a book about where babies come from…and giggling…noisily. Suddenly, I’m the one who gets to “ssshh” people (yes!).

As the saying goes, “membership has its privileges.” I used to think having a library card was just access to a club—a stuffy, outdated club held prisoner in the past. As a new employee at DPL, I’m learning “the card” is akin to a wedding ring that symbolizes a commitment to books, information and discovery. Like a marriage, friendship, or parent-child relationship, a dalliance with information takes care and attention; a willingness to learn about the object of one’s affection and communicate with them in a way that is both meaningful and fulfilling. Whether you dance among the stacks, or surf a library’s website, you are courting history, science, math, philosophy, art, and literature.

Indeed, I had a lot of catching up to do. Not only on changes in general (like the Internet is a thing now) but also discovering the programs, resources and services specific to DPL. When I sat down to write this blog I was baffled, befuddled and bemused. How am I going to put ALL of Decatur Public Library’s EVERYTHING into one engaging, concise blog post? That’s when “library languages” hit me and this five-part series was born. Have you heard of The 5 Love Languages? By all accounts it, and its off-shoots, have saved millions of relationships. Written by Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D., the series has become invaluable for those looking to strengthen ties. In an effort to help patrons grow their relationship with the library, I would like to introduce the 5 Library Languages – past, present, future, community and humanity.

The first library language is the obvious one – past. In school we learn that we can find information about history at the library. Libraries are a treasure chest, holding precious loot from days gone by. Literature written centuries ago, books about life centuries ago, and even movies created a century ago, are all found here. Philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” so it is essential to learn the first library language. At Decatur Public Library, history books and tales of old are stored alongside a variety of goodies tucked away in the Local History Room.

The Local History Room houses Archives and Special Collections, where you can discover your ancestors and their path to this country, even this COUNTY. Uncover your past and Decatur’s, and see how they relate to each other. Search oral histories, photos, school yearbooks, and military records. What was Decatur like in the 1920s, 40s, 60s? Read back issues of the Herald & Review to find out. Comb through documents about settlement (settled in 1826), creation of local government, industry, commerce, recreation, historically significant individuals and more. When did ADM move their headquarters to and from Decatur (1969/2014)? Read board meeting minutes from corporations and local government.

Learning about the past is the first and possibly most important library language. To think that someone chronicled it all, took the time to record and collect it, we owe them the courtesy of consuming it. Without knowing the past, how do we navigate the present, let alone the future? A library card is the ticket to another time. Discovering how the universe, the world, the country and Decatur came to be is an essential language to learn, especially when it informs how we master the second library language – the present.

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