For many people, thoughts of libraries are wrapped up in ribbons of nostalgia. They call to mind memories of childhood or of a time long past. For some, libraries stand as monuments to the past: great behemoths encapsulating all the world’s knowledge between four walls.
But for people like Jessica Byerly, those four walls reverberate with more than the words of great philosophers and poets; they echo with the memories of childhood.
Byerly, who moved to Bloomington with her family at the age of six, recalled how the library served as an anchor during that period of tumultuous transition.
“We’d come from a suburb that had a really nice library, and I spent pretty much all of my free time there, so I was very devastated when we moved. But I was consoled when Mom took us to the Normal Public Library for the first time,” Byerly said.
Byerly found many diversions at her new library, but she quickly developed a fixation on one particular computer game: Oregon Trail. The educational game, offered on all of the library’s computers, simulated pioneer life through a series of challenges from perilous travel to hunting to bartering for food and medicine. The iconic game also became infamous for its difficulty, a fact further compounded by players being unable to save on library computers.
“You could play for an hour, and then it was time to go. My people were always dying of cholera and I never actually got to make it to Oregon, but it was so exciting to get to use a computer,” Byerly exclaimed, recalling the time before her family had a computer of its own.
Although she grew up to be a veterinarian rather a pioneer, Byerly definitely feels that Normal Public Library had a significant impact on her life. Besides being the first place she encountered The Handmaid’s Tale and Alanis Morissette, Normal Public Library’s Big Stories by Little Authors taught her to have confidence in her own ability to write and create.
“I remember getting so excited to come here and meet an author and have them read to us. I felt so grown up, like a publication deal was in my future any day now. Alas, I was ten so probably unlikely,” she laughed.
There are people who believe libraries are merely vestiges of a bygone era—irrelevant now in a digital age of immediate gratification. And though Byerly’s stories of the library are replete with “I remembers,” she has no doubt that the library is an institution of the future.
“It’s cool how the library can be so many different things to so many different people. It’s been able to evolve with time, and that will only continue in the new building where they’ll have more space to provide more things for more people,” Byerly said.