A Girl Explores All the Fun Things You Can Do at the St. Louis Public Library
St. Louis Public Library, Missouri

The Future is NOW at the St. Louis Public Library

Got a library card? Welcome aboard fellow time-traveler

By Katie Carlisle

On paper, the year is 2020. In-person, the year depends on which room I’m in. In one day, I can travel, (roundtrip of course), 5,000 years into the future or 5,000 years into the past. Sure, I don’t have a driver’s license like my older brother, Ryan, who has his own car. But I’m only 11 years old. Plus, I have something even better: the keys to a time machine.

OK, technically, I don’t have keys. I have a library card for the St. Louis Public Library. OK, technically, it’s libraries. There are 17 branches throughout the city. I can visit all of them, but the one I practically live in is Central Library. My Grandpa Carlisle grew up going to this one. It’s been around even longer than he has—it was built around the same time the Titanic was! When Grandpa Carlisle was a kid, he pretended the library was a palace. He likes to remind us how he used to race his brothers and sisters up the grand steps. The first one to the top was crowned king or queen. Personally, I think it looks more like an important museum — kind of like the one from the movie “National Treasure.” Meanwhile, Mom says it reminds her of the beautiful cathedrals she saw in Europe because of the huge stained-glass windows.

Technically, I haven’t been to Europe. But Dad calls the library a “cultural destination.” He’s right. In the library, I can learn any language in the world. I can also go from the top of the ancient pyramids to the bottom of the ocean and to the edge of the universe, if I really want to get away from it all. Every library can take you places through the books on its shelves. But I think what makes the St. Louis Public Library so special is the fact that it’s a place you want to be, even if you don’t turn a single page. It can also take you to when you want to be: past, present or even future! And I can take my whole family with me.

Blast from the past

The year is 2375 BC.

I’m in the rare books and manuscripts room with Dad. I try to decipher the mysterious cuneiform tablet in front of us. “Aren’t you glad the library rents out modern tablets instead of these?” Dad asks, not offering much help in the de-coding area. He says the language is chicken scratch, but the description says Sumerian. (For the record, I am glad the library rents out Launch Pad tablet, pre-loaded with apps for kids.) I step to the next display and fast forward a few years and imagine what it would be like to write on these papyrus scrolls and vellum scrolls. “Aren’t you glad you have a Kindle instead of a calfskin?” I ask Dad. He laughs and leads me into the genealogy room, also up on the third floor.

Not only can I find all 50 books from “The Magic Treehouse” series here, but I can also learn about my family tree in the genealogy room. Near the top of the tree is Grandpa Carlisle’s very own Grandpa Carlisle, who came to Missouri from Wales. When I tell my Grandpa Carlisle that the library is a time machine, he jokes that he uses it to visit the early 2000s. That’s where he’s at with his internet skills, although he’s gotten way better ever since he started checking out portable hotspots from the library. It gives him free mobile Wi-Fi and he can check it out just like he would a book. He even made a few appointments with the library’s free Tech Connect service so he can learn computer basics and how to use social media to keep up with my cousins in California. For years he thought Facebook was an actual book!

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Living in the present

The year is 2020. Mom wants to be in the moment, but she also wants to capture it.

So, she’s in one of the library’s classrooms taking a free photography workshop. “I am so lucky to be doing this,” she keeps saying. It wasn’t until I visited a library in another state that I understood and realized how spoiled we are to have Central Library. Even before its multimillion-dollar renovation, my uncle, an architect, called the building a masterpiece. Actually, he calls it a “Cassterpiece” since it was designed by a man named Cass Gilbert. I get the joke because I went on the free architecture tour that the library offers. Zing!

Dad and I also want to take advantage of the present. Central Library has an exciting exhibit we want to check out before the next one moves in. On our way to the Great Hall, we stop by one of the cozier rooms and wave at Ryan and his SAT tutor who is helping him get ready for college. They’re behind a stack of books so high we can barely see their heads. I can see why they picked this room to study in. It’s so quiet, I can hear myself think.

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Fast forward to the future

The year is 2037. In my mind, I’m wearing all silver, with smart technology built right into my jumpsuit.

In reality, we’re still in the Great Hall, checking out the library’s newest exhibit. But this is where I come to see the future! They have the coolest stuff—you never know what you might discover. Last time I was here, we saw the Print to Pixels exhibit, which is how I fell in love with 3-D printing, because 2-D printing? That’s so 2014.

But in the future, everyone has 3-D printing, and we saw it first at the library. While we couldn’t use the model they had in the exhibit, we discovered an awesome, the-future-is-now kind of secret. Over at the Barr branch, they have several 3-D printers that visitors — like me — can use!   

I haven’t been yet, but you can bet I have big plans. I’ve been drawing up a storm and googling all the awesome things that you can design—like a 3-D sculpture of my cat Binx!   Even if I have to do Ryan’s chores for a week to get him to give me a ride to the Barr branch, I will print something. I may not be at the top of the family tree, but I will be the first Carlisle to use a 3-D printer.

I try to be the first to do a lot of things. Like, I’m the first of the Carlisle clan to have my own podcast. Technically, it’s in development, and Grandpa Carlisle — who is learning about podcasts in another one of those free Creative Experience classes — is helping. But thanks to the library’s Creative Experience recording room and the Digital Makerspace classes where I learned how to mix tracks on Incredibox, I’ve already finished a few episodes. Speaking of pods, when Ryan’s not studying, he uses one of the library’s Creative Experience Pods to learn coding and animation. Mom uses one for access to professional photoshop software and editing tools that would “cost a small fortune” to have at home, she said. Our family, also tries to go to all of the Creative Experience virtual reality events. One time, thanks to the library’s VR headsets and Google Expeditions, our whole family went on a shark diving trip together. I know it was just a virtual vacation, but it was one of the best we’ve ever taken. I came this close to a great white shark!

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To infinity and beyond

The year is whatever I want it to be. I’ve learned that as long as I’m in a St. Louis Public Library, I can be anywhere, at any time. I may not have a driver’s license, but in a place where you can rewind the clock to before cars were even invented, or travel into the future and pilot flying cars on VR headsets, I don’t need one. All I need is my library card.