When I was in elementary school, once a week we had gym class, music class, art class and library. Early on, I, like most of the kids, didn’t take library seriously. It was more of a quiet recess than anything else. Until another little girl in my class told me she didn’t want to waste time fooling around. She genuinely wanted to explore the shelves to find a book to read. This fascinated me. Was there something special about books?
This simple exchange between two little girls ignited my lifelong love affair with books and libraries. I couldn’t get enough of either. As I grew older, the school library’s strict limits on the number of books students could check out at one time just wasn’t sufficient for my voracious appetite. Luckily I discovered the public library, much larger than the school library with many, many more books.
I remember marching up to the circulation desk and asking, how many books was I allowed to take out? My question took the librarian by surprise. I don’t believe they had a firm limit. At that time, the public library lent books for a month at a time, so she told me I could take as many books as I could read in that four-week period. All these years later, I can still see the astonished look on her face when I carried my stack of ten to a dozen books to the checkout counter. But I give her credit, she let me check out the books.
My hard-working, always exhausted, father would give me a ride uptown to the library and take a nap in the car while I browsed the shelves for my stash. But the ride back and forth gave us one-on-one time we rarely had together.
My love of books may be genetic. My mother was also a great reader. She read many of the books I brought home. I asked her years later if she read the books because she enjoyed them or because she wanted to know what I was reading. She grinned as though I had finally caught on to her trick, but she said, “a bit of both.”
When I left home, I cut off my mother’s access to library books. She was disabled and unable to leave the house on her own. Luckily her love of books as well known, and friends would save their paperbacks for her, dropping off brown grocery bags full of them for her to read. Sometime later, when it became too hard for her to hold the books to read them, she got involved with the Library for the Blind who sent her books on tape. She went through those tapes as quick as she had the books.
As they became more commonplace, audiobooks were a joy my son, and I shared. Devouring to the same books, just as my mother and I had, and sharing thoughts and opinions on the stories.
I didn’t go to libraries as often as an adult, I bought my books instead, until I started researching my family history. Ancestry.com existed, but it was early days and there weren’t as many resources available online. So I did it the old fashioned way, by ordering microfiche from various libraries around the state and having it sent to my local library. I spent many hours scrolling through film looking for birth announcements, obituaries, and skimming page after page of census rolls. Now all the things I painstaking searched for manually are available online. When I talk about it, it makes me feel like I’m telling the proverbial story of ‘when I was a kid I had to walk to school uphill both ways’.
Not surprisingly, authors like to hang out around books and most recently my visits to libraries have centered around writers group meetings, writers’ conferences, and book fairs. A trend I see continuing for the foreseeable future.
The point, in a nutshell, is libraries have been in my life for all my life. A place to gather, to be entertained, to learn, to grow closer to family and friends.
Please share with me your own experiences with libraries and how they’ve affected your life.