Ode to the Sioux Falls Public Library
Or How Public Libraries Saved Me from a Life of Crime
By Christine Gunderson
The day I graduated from college, I got a phone call offering me a full time job as a television reporter at an ABC affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
I was so grateful to have a real, on-air television job that I failed to ask how much they planned to pay me. I do not recommend this as a negotiating tactic. I eventually learned I'd make $14,500 dollars a year. I was ecstatic, as only a person who doesn't really understand numbers could be.
Prior to this, my experience with a salary consisted of the minimum wage paychecks I'd earned in part-time and summer jobs as a nurses aid, a waitress, and a purveyor of denim at The County Seat. Compared to $4.25 an hour, $14,500 dollars sounded rich. Posh. Extravagant, even.
And I suppose it might have been an extravagant salary if I hadn't needed things like shelter, food and semi-presentable clothes to wear on television. Oh, and student loans. The people who made the job possible by funding my education now expected a cut of my salary. So did those FICA people, for reasons I could not understand, because surely I would be 22 forever and never need something like Social Security.
But the pleasure of the job compensated for the salary. I would have paid them to let me work in a newsroom. Fortunately, they didn't know how much I loved my adrenaline junkie co-workers, the squawking police scanners, the empty pizza boxes, the rush of being on live television, and the deep satisfaction that comes from writing and delivering a solid story. I'd finally found a world where the skills you needed to succeed were the limited but specific skills I actually had.
Best of all, the job ended when the newscast ended. You reported your story, went home and the assignment editor wiped the big board clean. You came to work the next morning and started something new. That's the great thing about news. It's new, every day.
And so I finally had time to read again. No homework to do. No papers to write. Just hours and hours to read whatever I wanted for the first time in years.
But in a terrible and ironic twist of fate, even though I finally had time to read books, I had absolutely no money to buy books. And this, my friends, is where our blog topic for April (finally) appears.
Some long dormant, book-seeking instinct led me to the Sioux Falls Public Library. An astute librarian recommended the Clan of the Cave Bear books and I devoured each one. Another introduced me to audio books and I listened to I, Claudius while driving across South Dakota. To this day, Roman emperors and the Mitchell Corn Palace are inextricably linked in my mind.
Without the Sioux Falls Public Library to support my insatiable reading habit, I might have started robbing trains, rustling cattle or selling Laura Ingalls Wilder artifacts on the dark web as part of an international crime syndicate.
But I did not turn to a life of crime because the library gave me books when I was young and broke and needed them most.
Fast forward a few years, and I'm still going to the library, but now I go because it's a great place to write. The Martha Washington Library here in Alexandra, Virginia has a glass enclosed nook on the first floor surrounded by trees. You feel like you're outside, but without the mosquitos. In the days before Covid, I sat for hours in the silence and serenity of this space, happily typing books for other people to read.
And I hope to do so again, because if I weren't writing, I'd be helicopter parenting my children, yelling at Vladimir Putin (who can't hear me), having imaginary conversations with people I don't like inside my head, and possibly even exercising.
Years later, my local library is still keeping me out of trouble.
Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor/reporter and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion, or unloading the dishwasher.