In my early 20s, I got sick and was stuck in bed for months with no energy to join my friends enjoying summer fun. Bored and lonely, I grabbed a library book, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, from my nightstand. I was instantly captivated by the novel. Even though the main character's experience, a child of immigrant parents caught between cultures, was very different from my own, his journey of coming into adulthood and forging his own identity deeply resonated with me. I ended up reading that book several times that summer, along with many others. I treasured the books that brought me great comfort and companionship during an otherwise challenging time.
October is National Book Month, offering us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the immense power that books and reading have in our lives. As it did for me that summer, reading can bring us so much: comfort, escape, knowledge, ideas, adventure, and connection. Books allow us to travel through time and place, expose us to different perspectives and cultures, help us to be seen and see others, challenge us with new ideas, and provide us with foundations for building community and understanding. A great example is our ECC community coming together this semester to read the book From Equity Talk to Equity Walk by Tia Brown McNair, Estela Mara Bensimon, and Lindsey E. Malcolm-Piqueux. Through a series of book discussions led by Anthony Ramos, our new executive director of equity, diversity, and inclusion, we have the opportunity to share ideas, learn, and strengthen our institutional commitment to equity.
Along with celebrating the importance of books and reading during National Book Month, we can also recognize the crucial role that libraries, librarians, and library staff play in providing access to books and other reading materials. I think about pioneering librarians such as Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in the New York City Public Library system. She strongly advocated for Spanish language books and bilingual storytime for her library’s underserved community. Similar efforts to create connection through reading continue today and can be seen in the work of Librarian Rodney Freeman Jr. to build an archive of positive stories of Black men from around the world to challenge narratives and inspire younger generations.
According to Author Ruth Ozeki, “the library is a very important character in all of our lives.” At ECC, we are fortunate to have the Renner Academic Library which holds a diverse collection of books and other resources to support the curriculum and student learning. Not only do our ECC Librarians provide access to the books and resources our users ask for, but also to those they never even knew they needed. Thanks to our wonderful past and present librarians, our collection is ever-changing and growing in response to user needs and the rich diversity of our ECC community. We offer many books and resources as treasures just waiting to be uncovered.
All these years later, I still have my own treasure, a copy of The Namesake, tucked in my nightstand, and I find myself pulling it out whenever I want to revisit the familiar characters and story. One of my favorite characters, Ashoke, shares a love of books and reading with his grandfather. At one point in the story, he tells a stranger, “‘My grandfather always says that’s what books are for. . . To travel without moving an inch.’” National Book Month is a great reminder of all the amazing journeys that await us when we read.
-Stacey Shah, Professor I Distance Learning Librarian