Zak of All Trades: Your local library — you should check it out

Reading has always been there for me. When I needed a bit of therapy, I could pick up a book and be whisked away to another world for a while.

When I needed something to keep me entertained on a long drive or flight, I could take a magazine or two with me and be just fine.

Like I said, reading has just always been there for me. And each chapter of my life has had books that I remember having a big influence on me.

As a child growing up, I remember reading "Thank You, Jackie Robinson" over and over again. I had all sorts of books that I loved, but I especially remember that one, and it still holds a special place in my heart.

Through school, I was the "nerd" who loved the reading assignments that we were given. From the classic novels — I especially remember my introduction to Jack London's "White Fang" as a highlight during my education — to the discovery of non-prose-styled writing — with the eye-opener coming in high school English when I not only read poetry, but also wrote it.

Reading was my gateway to writing, and although I went on to study writing's polar opposite — mathematics — in college, I never walked away from the fine arts of reading and writing.

In college, there were plenty of reading assignments to keep me busy — some that interested me and some that didn't — but I still found free time to pick up a book or two — most of them falling into a genre that I still frequent today — Christian Living.

As a young Christian, I was — and still am — eager to pick up a good book or two and learn something from the folks who have gone before me — C.S. Lewis, Max Lucado, Donald Miller, Anne Lamott (these are just a few of my many favorites).

When I was younger, I viewed reading as entertainment. I enjoyed it, and so I figured that it was a lot like watching TV or chatting online — it's just something to do to pass the time. But what I've discovered in my older age is that reading has been teaching me, guiding me and leading me down the right path all along.

From those devotionals to reading my Bible, books have helped shape my path and helped hold me up when I needed some support.

From books like "Thank You, Jackie Robinson" and "Blue Like Jazz," I've been forced to think about societal norms and which side of a certain coin I find myself on.

And from books like the one I'm just about to finish — "The Education of
Koko," which is a 1981 piece about teaching a gorilla sign language — I find my mind opened to a vast amount of knowledge that I could never have acquired without the printed word.

This coming week is National Library Week, a week that has its origin in realizing the importance of reading in all of our lives. The site says that National Library Week started in the 1950s after it was realized that people were spending far less on books and far more on radios and televisions, according to the American Library Association's website.

"In 1957, the National Library Committee developed a plan for National Library Week based on the idea that once people were motivated to read, they would support and use libraries.

With the cooperation of ALA and with help from the Advertising Council, the first National Library Week was observed in 1958 with the theme "Wake Up and Read!"

This year's theme is "Lives Change @ Your Library," and while it might sound corny, I'm proof positive that lives can and do change at the library.

Growing up, I remember frequent visits to both the Punxsutawney Memorial Library and the Reynoldsville Public Library, in addition to the delight of getting to check out books from my school libraries!

Now, sure, I played my fair share of video games growing up, and I always have enjoyed a good TV show or sporting event, but there's still nothing like turning down all the noise and losing myself in a book.

If you're not a frequent library visitor, I'd like to encourage you to take advantage of this week as an opportunity to swing by your local one and check it out. Here are a few reasons I think that's a good idea:

• Dewey Decimal System — In addition to it's super-cool name, the Dewey Decimal System, which you probably remember learning about back in school, has something for everyone. Have an interest in something?

There's a Dewey Decimal classification for that! (Not as catchy as, "there's an app for that," I know.) Long before we had a thousand channels on our TV, the system has been providing us with hundreds of reading options, neatly organized.

A fan of sports? Check out the 790s. Science? Hit up the 500s. Psychology? That's in the 100s. Like I said, Dewey has something for everyone.

• Librarians love books! — If you're not sure that you are a big fan of reading, I'd encourage you to swing by the library anyhow. A love for reading, I think, is contagious.

I learned to love reading because a lot of the adults I hung around when I was younger loved reading. So, if I'm not convincing enough, maybe the staff members at your local library can help open your eyes to what's so great about reading.

• The available resources don't stop at books — While my favorite part of the library is certainly the books, the Dewey Decimal System isn't the only part of the library that has something for everyone.

Our library here in Punxsy has so many different resources to offer — and many of them are free of charge! Newspapers are available there (both new copies and old copies on microfilm).

Computers with Internet access are also available for those who need them, and the library even provides classes for folks who don't know how to use a computer.

With the evolution of books to e-books — an evolution I'm not so excited about, I must admit — the library is keeping up with that trend, as well, offering books you can check out on your mobile devices.

And the plethora of activities offered to the children of our community is outstanding!

These are just a few of the many reasons that I think libraries are pretty swell — and I'm sure that if you stopped by the library, the folks there could fill you in on dozens of other reasons and other available resources.

Reading and books have been such a huge part of my life, and without libraries, that probably wouldn't have been the case. My love for books, my desire for knowledge and even my career all find their origins at libraries.

This year's theme is "Lives Change @ Your Library," and I'm living proof of that. Maybe your local library has something life-changing in store for you!

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit, and when he's not proofreading for work, you can probably find his nose buried in a good book or a magazine.