The Public Library: A Sanctuary since ca. 1974
by A Latter-day Bluestocking
I just read Five Times A Library Changed Me by Rachael Berkey about the mental, emotional, and spiritual growth libraries provide her. I silently chuckled reading about the pride she had in getting her first library card, riding her bicycle to the library and attempting to bring home a shelf-load of books, the competitiveness of school reading challenges, and the complexities of navigating her college library mostly because I have many parallels in my own life. It was a bit uncanny. We love, crave even, the company of books and we live with the idea that the library is a home away from home.
I was inspired to write of my most potent memories and reflect on how a library was an important entity in my formative years. Thanks Rachael for the idea: imitation is, afterall, the sincerest form of flattery.
My first memory of a library is of my mother taking me on a very wet and dreary day, it was after a swim lesson, my belly full of pizza and myself physically exhausted [and probably cranky]. The building was diminutive, the exact size to inspire interest without being overwhelming to a 5 year old. It was divided into two wings, one side held the Juvenile books and the other the Adult books and in the middle overseeing all was the Librarian’s desk with all her pretty cards and stamps. What a haven of serenity. I received my first library card here. What source of power, this simple manila heavy card stock, possessed. I was left to roam the shelves and pick the books I wanted to check out. I remember the smell of the books, a scent recollection so stimulating that the remembrance of it brings back floods of happy thoughts.
There were so many books!! How was I to choose? I couldn’t and boy, was my mother shocked by the small tower of books I had decided upon. She didn’t flinch however as she guided me to the Librarian to have them checked out. Thanks Mom for understanding the stirrings of what would become my lifelong affair with the written word and even encouraging it.
Yes, that sounds obnoxious but blame the philosophy of a late 70s and early 80s educational system. It has established in me that reading for mere enjoyment and interest alone is not enough; that it can, and is, a competitive sport. That practice, begun in grammar school, continues with Goodreads and their annual reading challenge. I am currently at 29% of my 2013 reading goal having finished 26 books of the 90 I intend to read. Cool right?
I remember my first official reading challenge. The local library called it The Reading Olympics and depending on how many books you read you could earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal. It won’t take too much stretch of the imagination to know what medal I not so secretly coveted. I remember taking home the log sheet in which we were to write the books we had completed with the start and end dates. The mostly self-inflicted pressure was intense but like any well-trained athlete I was sure that I had what it takes to win gold. I paced myself, slow and steady will win the race, gradually picking up the pace until I had filled out that sheet. I was so proud when I handed in my sheet knowing I had won gold exceeding the 25 book minimum. A few weeks later I received that medal and reveled in all its shiny plastic dazzle. [cue Olympics Theme music now]
When I was about 7 or 8 years old my mother began her collegiate academic career. This was awesome for many reasons but mainly because on days when we had to accompany her Mom would leave us at the campus library with the strict orders that we were to behave. We always did. Nothing was cooler and it was from this moment that I knew I wanted to go to college too. When you are in 5th grade and a veracious reader there is nothing like it. I roamed the stacks for hours never getting bored pretending that I was a college student like those in the television show The Paper Chase.
I once had to do research for a class project. We were studying medieval Europe and I decided I wanted to do my presentation on heraldry. I looked up books in the card catalogue, pulled the necessary books from the shelf, and spent every dime I had photocopying a small forest worth of pertinent literature. Mom even checked out books for me. I don’t remember what grade I received but I sure do remember having lots of fun doing the research.
Libraries are wonderful places, temples of wisdom and bastions of human intellect. I love to go to my local library and look at the books and I always inadvertently walk out with an armful of books to add the myriad others I have not read. Oh well, it only helps me with my Reading Challenge goal!
It’s National Libraries Week (April 14-20) so get out there, get your library card, and start reading!!Follow @LadyBibliophile