February 7, 2023

I love our public cornucopium

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — Yes, sir! Our cornucopium is open five days a week and I stop in five days a week. It’s one of the blessings in my retirement.

I wish it were open seven days a week. I’d be there seven days a week.

Yes, you’ve guessed right. You figured it out that that cornucopium refers to our public library here. I do love it.

I have loved public libraries ever since I got my first library card.

I was 13, I believe, when I got that fabulous card. All thanks to my dear Maman.

She was an immigrant from Quebec and her language was French. She loved to read.

Easy to see people enjoy our public cornucopium. I always do. You would, too.

After she’d put us to bed, and Papa was also in bed, she’d curl up in her rocking chair and read. French things, of course.

But slowly she learned to read English. And was reading not only our daily newspaper, but also the Saturday Evening Post and such.

I owe my love of reading to her.

I remember the first time she took me to our public library. It was on one of her weekly trolley trips downtown to shop.

Taking me by the hand, she walked me to a great big majestic building brand new to me. Yes, our public library. The biggest building I ever went into besides our church.

She led me up its big granite steps. Through the big door with the shiny brass handle. Into a large room with a high vaulted ceiling.

Quite a few people in there. Lots of shelves loaded with books. Nice wooden tables with matching chairs. People were reading. A few were scribbling. There was little talking.

She took me right up to a big desk with a friendly lady behind it. Maman talked to her. And that nice lady gave me my first public library card. And Maman explained to me how to use it.

I used it that very day. She helped me to choose a nice book that she called a novel. That was a big day for me.

And that was at the Slater Public Library in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

I got to see that the Slater was filled with riches. True riches. Which were books and magazines and newspapers. And the books and the older magazines, but not the newspapers, could be ours to enjoy at home for two weeks. Free. Not costing Maman a penny. Oh, wonder of wonders!

And what has been most fantastic of all?

Ever since then, I’ve never been without a public library card.

That was a true public library. I say “true” because it offered us books and a few magazines and a newspaper or two and that was it.

In fact, that’s the classic definition of “library” — a place where books and related materials can be kept for use but not for sale.

But honestly, that word “library” no longer applies. “Library” has become a dodo of a word. We should junk it.

You’ll understand when I show you how our public library here in Morro Bay offers so much more than just books and related materials nowadays. And surely the Slater Public Library, and your library, I’ll bet, and all public libraries that are with it.

So I’ve thought and thought and have come up with a brand-new word that is more appropriate. Fits better. Yes, it’s “cornucopium.”

And that’s how I now think of our public library. As the Morro Bay Public Cornucopium.

And you should use “cornucopium” for your library. Don’t laugh. It makes so much sense.

As we know, a cornucopia is a horn-shaped container filled with wonderful vegetables and fruits and cheeses and other goodies.

Well, that’s what a good public library is today — a wonderful place filled with a great abundance of goodies but of an intellectual kind.

And in a minute or two you’ll have a good idea of the many goodies that are available at our public cornucopium. You can compare it to what your library offers you. Excuse me, your cornucopium!

Again, don’t laugh please. Hey, you use the words gymnasium, auditorium, symposium, sanatorium, and condominium and others like that, don’t you? So why not cornucopium?

So now don’t you agree that corrnucopium is perfect? What other word can possibly describe the modern public library so well?

The fantastic fact is I have enjoyed public libraries beyond number over the years. In cities and towns where I have lived or visited, here in the USA and a number of other countries.

And I’ve had a library card at a number of them. How I’ve been blessed!

Why am I writing about this? Well, recently I attended a lecture at the library. Oops, the cornucopium. Yes, a lecture.

Prof. Don Krieger, an expert on local history, told us how years ago Chinese and Japanese immigrants settled here by the hundreds to grow vegetables and to fish for abalone and thus transformed the economy. Yes, transformed it. They were true pioneers of a new kind. It was fun learning all that.

That was not a one and only. I’ve attended other fine lectures here. Well, it’s quite new for libraries to offer lectures, isn’t it?

And just a few days ago two women, a violinist and a cellist, gave a concert at our library. Wonderful. Free. How could it be better than that?

Concerts at a public library? Amazing, I thought, the first time. Not any more. Free, by the way.

And I’ve attended other wonderful concerts here.

Isn’t it quite new for libraries to offer concerts?

By the way, our cornucopium has a nice, small auditorium for these public events. The Slater never had anything like that. That was unthinkable.

We now have a seed library! Yes, seeds! Very new. Card holders can take out vegetable, fruit, and flower seeds, like books. Free. How incredible, I thought, when I first heard about it. But how wonderful!

Does your library offer a seed catalog?

Other novel ideas about what a library should be have become realities here.

For instance, every week a lady who’s an expert now comes in and gives a class on chair yoga. Yes, how to do yoga exercises while seated. For folks who would find it hard to do the regular kind. She attracts a dozen or so.

Well, I was tempted to sign up. I backed off when I saw that just about everybody in the class was female. I suspect that other fellows felt the same way.

And every week one of our librarians gives a tutorial on how to use a smartphone. And another librarian does the same about basic computer skills. It’s impressive to see how many take advantage of that.

I’ve attended a couple of the smartphone tutorials. And now routinely I use tips that I picked up there. First time I experience that in a public library!

Several Saturday mornings this summer a Drum Circle was held in the library courtyard. Led by three enthusiasts from a club of local drummers. They set up a dozen drums and other percussion instruments and invited anyone interested to come and sit down and try their hand.

What a great time they had. It was so obvious they were having a ball. And all while learning something new and fascinating.

Hey, hearing them, I put my newspaper aside in the reading room and walked over to see the fun they were having. .

That drum circle was another first for me in a public library. Does your library offer a drum circle?

And of course I’m aware of all the other goodies, the traditional ones, that our library — excuse me, our cornucopium — offers routinely day in and day out.

Books of course, lots of books, of every kind, including best sellers just out.

A pleasant, airy reading room with chairs — not stiff-backed wooden chairs, buy upholstered armchairs, mind you.

More than 40 popular magazines of different genres.

Plus more than half a dozen newspapers, including the big ones — the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today.

Hundreds of DVDs and CDs. (They are by far the cornucopium’s most popular offering. People check them out by the handful.)

Four computers for public use. Free. You can even reserve one. And can print out pages for only a dime apiece. Make photocopies also, same price. Quite a bargain.

Oh, this is important. We also have a large and wonderful children’s library. Even with a couple of computers for little hands!

Our library has Wi-Fi, of course. Which makes it possible for people to come in and use their own computer or tablet or smartphone online, which is a big plus.

Another huge plus is its automated checkout system. No need to approach a busy librarian any more. But important in another way, I found out.

You know, it could be greatly embarrassing to let a librarian, especially one who knows you, see what you’re checking out — a book on bankruptcy, for instance, or maybe on coming out sexually, or how to overcome a drug habit, or how to get a divorce, and so on. Not a problem anymore.

By the way, we have wonderful librarians. I must mention this. Maybe it has something to do with our being a small community. I love them.

Oh, here’s another fine service. When the book or books you check out are due, you will receive an email, and if you want

September events. What an interesting variety! No wonder the word “library” no longer applies.

to renew, you can do that right then and there. So easy. So pleasant.

By the way, our cornucopium not only lets us take out books free. It also sells used books in a nice little “bookstore.” A wide variety. Most are just $1.

It’s operated by our Friends group, all volunteers. On a Saturday three times a year they also stage a massive book sale. People line up to get in. I’m always one of them. Our next one is September 28th!

But why buy books when you can take them out free?

Well, some of those books are no longer stocked. Besides, book lovers feel there are some books that they must own. I’m guilty — I have bookcases full of books. I cull them now and then to make room for the new ones. And donate the old books for the next book sale.

Well, some of these nice efforts by the Friends help underwrite some very nice programs.

This isn’t unique to us here in Morro Bay. I’ll bet that you also have an active Friends group at your library.

But one important thing we have here deserves mentioning. I’ve never seen the equal of it. It’s our large parking lot. Many spots. Free. No time limit. Not that I need it. I pedal my trike over. But lots of library-goers love it.

By the way, I just got a look at our cornucopium’s September offerings.

Here are the special offerings for adults:

A book discussion group on the 4th. Another on the 18th. A meditation group on the 6th and 27th. A fibromyalgia support group on the 25th. Yes, fibromyalgia!

A watercolor workshop on the 7th. On the 19th an adult movie: “First Man.” On the 21st the monthly get-together for both published and want to be published authors.

And here are the offerings for children during September:

On the 3rd, toddler story time, including stories, songs, fingerplays and “shakers,” whatever that is. Also on the 10th, 17th, and the 24th.

On the 11th, the make-and-take crafts show — children are welcome to make a little something to take home.

And on the 18th, Young Steamers: hands-on experience for kids to learn about science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Well, now doesn’t this convince you that cornucopium is a much better fit than “library”?

In fact, it is also something else. It is a community center. Everyone is welcome. Even people who don’t have a card. Who may live alone and want to be with other people. Who may be homeless. Who may come in only to get out of the cold or the rain. Or to sit in a nice comfortable chair for a while, or to use the bathrooms. Without fear of being bothered, or looked down on. Visitors and tourists also, of course. No admission charge ever!

Yes, a true community center. There’s nothing else in Morro Bay that comes close.

So yes, our cornucopium is a big and fine one all by itself. But in fact it’s an even bigger and better one than you might think, and for a special reason.

It is that ours really is one of 14 branch libraries that make up our San Luis Obispo County Library System.

Its headquarters is the big one in the city of San Luis Obispo a dozen miles south. A beautiful and charming city, by the way.

Here’s why this network setup is fantastic. All the branches are computer connected. Which means that when you want a specific book, or DVD, say, you may find out it’s not available here at our branch but is available elsewhere in the system.

You can order it and will be able to pick it up here and return it here, and this great service will not cost you a nickel.

Bottom line, anyone with a library card has access not only to books but to many of the goodies available in one or another of the county’s libraries!. So efficient. So clever.

Yes, so many goodies!

It’s in thinking of all these that I realized the word library should be abandoned. And came up with cornucopium.

It’s very probable that your library, wherever you are, offers these same services and programs and is similarly motivated. So truly you are enjoying a cornucopium also. Glory be!

So call it that. Cornucopium! Be proud that it’s a cornucopium. Be thankful that’s what it is. And begin using this wonderful newfangled word on a regular basis. Cornucopium!

And know what? Someday, a new edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, our country’s finest, may have this new word in it. Cornucopium. For the simple reason that it’s a much, much better fit than its predecessor coined years and years ago.

Yes, cornucopium — a public repository of books and related materials and unique services to be enjoyed but not sold. Ever. For everybody in the community. Without charge.

How about that?! How fortunate we are.

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