When you speak to folks with niche passions about how they got into their craft, their stories are often similar.
They stumbled upon it, and it stuck.
It’s usually something like, “I discovered my love of music as a kid while playing piano with my dad.”
Or, “I started making films in a media studies class in junior high and never stopped.”
In high school, my niche thing was graffiti art. Some friends roped me into it and I ended up falling in love. I would go around DC taking photos of street art on my mom’s film camera, then I’d have to go to the library to scan them into the computer.
Eventually, my love for graffiti art naturally gave way to my love for tech.
Spending time taking photos, scanning them, and submitting them to forums online familiarized me with computers and the internet at a time when home computers weren’t yet commonplace. And if it hadn’t been for that library scanner, I would’ve just been sifting through film prints at home alone.
The barrier to entry for most things is access to resources.
For many, a lack of access means a lack of exploration.
And everyone, especially young people, deserves to explore the possibilities in the world around them. A person shouldn’t have to be limited to what’s available or what’s familiar.
That’s why I love public libraries.
Beyond books and being a community space, libraries provide access to technology that isn’t commonplace in the average person’s home. In the 90’s, that scanner allowed me to participate and in a community I would’ve otherwise just been observing.
In 2017, the city of Austin opened a 6-story central library location downtown. I remember reading about it at the time –maybe you do too. It was one of TIME Magazine’s Greatest Places in 2018.
The 200,000 square foot building houses 500,000 books, an art gallery, cafe, 150 computers, and has made news for its sustainable building design, including a green roof and a cistern that collects rain water and pipes it to the bathrooms.
I remember being particularly amazed by the Technology Petting Zoo they had set up, where visitors could engage with technology they may not have access to otherwise, ranging from cameras to tablets to smart light bulbs to a functioning 3D printer.
And of course, it’s all free.
I couldn’t help but think of myself as a kid, so excited by the art and technology around me, and so eager to engage with it however I could.
What if I had had the ability to explore these interests further, and earlier on? What would life have been like if I could’ve gone to a technology petting zoo in a palatial building surrounded by half a million books?
On the other hand, what would it have been like if I hadn’t been allowed to explore my passions at all?
It is so important, and so deeply cool, that we continue to provide public access to resources with absolutely zero barrier to entry.
Every kid deserves the chance to stumble upon something that changes their life.
Long live the library.