Uplifting, Inspiring Stories from the Past Year at Your Library

Posted on December 13, 2023 at 6:00 am

Photo: Rogue Heart Media

Photo: Rogue Heart Media

By Dana Mannino

Whenever someone sends the library a thank you note, praises library staff in a comment card, or shares some verbal kudos, we enter that interaction into a database (it’s a very librarian thing to do) so that all staff can see it, making sure those who are being praised know they are appreciated.

When I have a difficult day, I go to the database to see the kudos and remind myself of all the lives that the library and our staff have helped.

In this cold, dark time of year, you too may need some uplifting. So, to share the warmth of the season, here are some true, feel-good stories that took place in our libraries during 2023.

Rebuilding a Life with the Help of Books

Back in April, we received this emailed note:

“Your wonderful Valley Library has taken care of me beyond the call of duty for over 15 years and counting—I could not have had the resources to recover without you. ‘Thanks’ really doesn’t begin to cover it. Cheers, Bob”

I knew there had to be a larger story, so I called Bob to see if he was willing to share more. He was!

Fifteen years ago, Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury. “I forgot everything. I remember taking a brain assessment with a math problem and I started to cry. I thought, ‘An 8-year-old could solve this, but I can’t anymore.’ For the first year, I could only concentrate for 10 minutes. That was it. I would have to go to bed for the rest of the day with a headache so bad I couldn’t stand,” he shares.

Prior to his injury, Bob worked on archeological digs, creating meticulously illustrated and written records of exactly where artifacts were found.

He decided to apply the same skill set to his injury: “I remember reading something Oliver Sacks wrote—that we don’t know much about brain injuries because the patients can’t articulate what’s going on. I thought, ‘I bet I can!’ I started keeping a log. I thought, ‘I’m going to keep good enough records that I could put something together that would help other people.'”

Even during the times when he could only concentrate for 10 minutes a day, Bob was keeping records. For example, he noted in his log the first day that he could concentrate for 12 minutes instead of 10.

Bob shared that the library was helpful to Bob in several ways.

The first way was helping him recover memories of books that had been important to him before the injury. When Bob would recall the title of the book, he suggested the item to the library, and the library would either purchase it or borrow it from another library through Interlibrary Loan. Re-reading books helped Bob reconstruct what he used to know.

Some of the items that Bob requested were very technical and too expensive for him to access on his own. He shared, “We had limited income at that time. I had been the main income earner, and in a day, it had all evaporated. How my wife kept us from being homeless, I’ll never know.”

The library provides free access to many scholarly and technical journals through the online resources found our Digital Library.

The library also uses an Interlibrary Loan process to request articles that fall outside the scope of our collection from other libraries in our network. Using these tools, Bob could get access to technical information on the topics he was studying, including art, archeology, and of course, brain injury.

Bob’s brain injury made leaving the house very difficult. A healthy brain allows you to filter out less important sensory input, such as ambient noise and visual details outside of your focus. Bob relayed, “When my wife drove me to visit the doctor, I had to close my eyes. It was like everything I was seeing was stabbing directly into me.”

Bob’s world narrowed to the confines of his room, where he could more easily control the incoming stimuli. “It’s six steps to the bathroom. It’s 16 steps to the couch. I recorded it one time,” says Bob.

Since visiting the library in person was out of the question, Bob requested and received books and articles using the library’s Books by Mail service. Materials were sent directly to his house, and he could return them via mail.

Bob describes recovering from a brain injury as a 3-stage process, like a traffic light: red for stop, yellow for go slow, and green for go. Bob is in the green-for-go phase now.

He has regained some of the lost brain function and also created a “map” for himself of his triggers and how to respond to them.

Thanks to his map, Bob can keep busy with many different projects. He has developed expertise in creating cabinet paintings in the Flemish style (a frequent topic of his Interlibrary Loan requests). His work was recently exhibited at the Hamilton Studio in Spokane. He also hopes to use his meticulous notes on his own recovery to publish a guide for people experiencing traumatic brain injury.

Community Connections That Can Save Lives

Our Play & Learn Storytimes are great learning opportunities for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, and they also help parents.

This became especially true during a Baby Play & Learn Storytime. These storytimes can give new parents a chance to socialize with other caregivers. And after spending so much time intensely focused on their babies, new parents often express how nice it is to talk with other adults once a week.

In at least one case, that interaction may have been the difference between life and death!

One of our early learning librarians shared with me that a conversation between two moms at storytime led to one of them seeking a screening for a medical condition during her pregnancy. The screening revealed that she had a potentially life-threatening condition, and fortunately, the doctors were able to treat it, ensuring a safe birth for both her and the baby.

This story shows how important connections in our communities can be. Most interactions during storytimes may not be as serious and critical as this one. Yet, they can often be uplifting and supportive.

When Technology Is Frustrating

The library is a place to go when you don’t have enough information to solve a problem.

For one library customer, such a situation happens twice a year due to daylight savings. John was kind enough to leave us a Google review describing how the library helped him cope with this dilemma:

“For the second time in a year, the Deer Park Library supervisor has taken the time to solve one of my most frustrating chores: setting the clock in my Subaru for the annual time change. I mentioned to him how frustrating it has been every year for this 76-year-old man. He quickly researched the solution and within two minutes came out to my car and set the correct time.”

While every library employee might not feel comfortable following you out to your car, we do offer one-on-one help with technology. This service is called Book a Librarian.

You fill out the online form or give us a call (509.893.8400) to tell us what you need help with, and once we locate the library staff with that expertise, we call you to arrange an appointment to work on it together.

One customer sent us this thank you after his appointment:

“I am a senior struggling with a new smart phone (Samsung S22). The phone drives me crazy trying to figure it out without an instruction book. I was ready to throw it out the window until I made a Book-a-Librarian appointment. I met with [a library staff person]. She is extremely knowledgeable about Android phones even though she uses Apple. She was very reassuring with me even when I told her that I was a dummy using a smart phone!! [She] has the unique ability to figure out what I am struggling to say and gives me answers in simple and easy to understand terms. She has the patience of a saint. A true gift for us seniors.”

If someone gifts you with a mystifying piece of technology this holiday season, consider booking a one-on-one appointment at the library so we can help you figure it out.

Do you have a heartwarming story about the library to share? You can call the library, mail us a card, or come into your library to share it. I look forward to reading about it, especially on those days when I could use a pick-me-up.

Librarian Dana Mannino

Dana Mannino is a librarian at Spokane County Library District. She plans library programs for adults and serves as an SCLD liaison to the Latinx community. At home, she hosts biannual Lord-of-the-Rings–themed parties and watches BritBox. How does she take her tea? Very, very seriously.

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