This week I had two library appearances: one in Chinatown, and one down near the ballpark at the Mission Bay branch.

Every time I do a library art program I am struck by the overpowering urge to jump up on my soapbox and sing the praises of our local library system. (Thank you, Ben Franklin!)

The children's librarians across our city are amazing. They offer so many services, both educating and entertaining, to so many on only a meager budget.

During these fiscally difficult times, the library has become a haven not for just children, but also for folks who are out of work and looking for jobs. The computers alone offer a window of opportunity for so many who don't have access to a computer at home. The librarians I work with tell me that their enrollment is up at least 35 percent, and that these are not just folks who are down and out, but those with families looking for fun and free things to do.

I'm sure some of you think that the library is becoming obsolete. What with all the information available at our fingertips, who needs a library for research anymore? I'm sure most of us have those movie images running through our head of an old crone librarian hag who swoops down, finger pressed firmly to her chapped lips, making that horrible snake-like hissing sound, "Shhhhh!" If that's your image, I suggest you go check out a story hour sometime. Nothing could be farther from that picture!

Jasmine, over at Mission Bay, has a baby/toddler story time that packs in over 130 people each week. It's grown so large that she's had to add supplemental story times. After the book reading, she brings out toys for the babies, and the moms, nannies, and caretakers all chat while the kids gum copies of Elmo's Alphabet.

The thing that's so great about the library programs is the chance for folks to connect. What I love about my art classes is that folks all sit down with their children and get creative as a team, each learning and inspiring those sitting around them. The adults get into it along with (and sometimes even more than) the kids. Everyone at the tables starts chatting - connections are made - a sense of community begins to form.

Our society needs places like this, where people can come together, share ideas, have a little fun, as well as borrow a book, movie, or CD. It's also a great thing for kids to learn the responsibility of borrowing something and returning it. (My suggestion: mark your calendar a week before things are due, and start a "returns" basket near your door. I also suggest a little whiteboard where you keep track of how many items and what kind that you have borrowed - it should help you avoid those late fees!)

My advice: if you are looking for something fun to do this weekend, go check out your local library. Take advantage of the great programs they have to offer. A library is more than just a place to get books, it's a place to get inspired.

If you're interested in learning how to help out your local library, check out this this site from the California Library Association!