For as long as I can remember I have loved libraries. Books are my passion and being surrounded by them simply makes me happy. I know many LWD readers share my love of books and libraries so in honor of National Library Week I thought we’d chat a bit about the libraries we have loved.
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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books. In oh, so many ways, I have always been able to relate to Francie Nolan, the main character:
The library was a little old shabby place. Francie thought it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church. She pushed open the door and went in. She liked the combined smell of worn leather bindings, library paste and freshly-inked stamping pads better than she liked the smell of burning incense at high mass.
She put her hand on the edge of the polished desk liking the way it felt. She looked at the neat row of freshly-sharpened pencils, the clean green square of blotter, the fat white jar of creamy paste, the precise stack of cards and the returned books waiting to be put back on the shelves. The remarkable pencil with the date slug above its point was by itself near the blotter’s edge.
“Yes, when I get big and have my own home, no plush chairs and lace curtains for me. And no rubber plants. I’ll have a desk like this in my parlor and white walls and a clean green blotter every Saturday night and a row of shining yellow pencils always sharpened for writing and a golden-brown bowl with a flower or some leaves or berries always in it and books … books … books. …
Learning to read
I learned to read in kindergarten although I can’t recall exactly how that happened. It was a rather typical kindergarten experience for the mid-60s. Half day, milk and graham crackers, sitting on a rug while the teacher read to us, and lots of art projects. It was decidedly low pressure compared to kindergarten today and yet I distinctly recall my excitement about reading the Dick and Jane books I brought home from school.
I don’t know where my love of books came from since I didn’t see my parents reading. My mom wasn’t interested in books and my dad was too busy running his own business. Still, they were willing to buy books for me. My mom signed me up for a book-of-the-month club when I was about six and I still have the books.
I attended a private school from second through sixth grade. It was a small school and it didn’t have a library. However, each teacher had books in the classroom that we were allowed to borrow. Every day I’d take a book home, read it and return it the next. These classroom libraries were housed in small closets in each room. I especially recall the books in my third grade classroom. I read about Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart, Florence Nightingale, the Wright Brothers, Dolly Madison, Betsy Ross, and many others. I’m not certain but I think these were part of the Landmark Books series and I’d give anything to have some of the ones I read in my own library. These books opened my mind and stimulated my imagination.
We, of course, had a public library in the town where I grew up. I’d talk my mom into taking me there occasionally, especially if I had a school report to write. I’ll never forget a particular report I wrote in 4th grade. I can’t for the life of me understand why the teacher allowed a sensitive nine year old do a report on the Donner Party or why I chose that topic. Unsurprisingly, our public library didn’t have anything on the Donner Party in the children’s section. That was my first foray into the adult section of the library. I think I’m still a bit traumatized by that book. However, I did get an ‘A’ on my 4-page report about a very tragic historical event. And I realized there was a whole world beyond the children’s section of the library.
One of the first things I did when we moved from California to Oklahoma after I graduated high school was to get a library card. The library was (and is) fairly small but I loved the fact that it was chock full of vintage books. Not so great for doing reports on current topics but lots of enjoyable fiction for someone born in the wrong era. I was actually a bit sad when the library began receiving enough funds to buy new books and began selling those cherished older volumes. I began a personal quest to “save” as many as I could at each used book sale.
The Ada Public Library
My favorite library was the one at the university I attended. It has since been replaced by a nice, modern library but that quirky old place will always hold a special place in my library-loving heart. I can’t begin to adequately describe it. The center section had four levels and was flanked by three-level sections on either side. It was a rather dark and confusing maze and I pitied the librarians who must have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to explain to new students how it was possible to be on the second level, walk a few steps (without taking any stairs) and then be on the third level of the center stacks. And we won’t talk about the state of the ancient elevator except to say most everyone preferred the stairs.
I feel certain it would have been entirely possible for someone to live in that library, undetected, for an extended period of time…sort of like the character in Where the Heart Is who lived secretly in a Walmart. When I needed a quiet place to study I would go to the top level, way in a corner and could study completely undisturbed for hours. They just don’t build libraries like that anymore. Everyone seems to think big, open spaces are a good thing while I believe nothing replaces the nooks and crannies of older buildings when it comes to serious study.
Libraries helped shape my life and continue to be a happy place for me. What about you? Do you love libraries? I’d love to hear about your favorite. Leave me a comment and let’s chat about these magical places.
Francie held the books close and hurried home, resisting the temptation to sit on the first stoop she came to, to start reading.
Home at last and now it was the time she had been looking forward to all week: fire-escape-sitting time. She put a small rug on the fire-escape and got the pillow from her bed and propped it against the bars. Luckily there was ice in the icebox. She chipped off a small piece and put it in a glass of water. The pink-and-white peppermint wafers bought that morning were arrange in a little bowl, cracked, but of a pretty blue color. She arranged glass, bowl and book on the window sill and climbed out on the fire-escape. Once out there, she was living in a tree. No one upstairs, downstairs or across the way could see her. But she could look out through the leaves and see everything.
Francie breathed the warm air, watched the dancing leaf shadows, ate the candy and took sips of the cooled water in-between reading the book.
If i were King, Love,
Ah, if I were King. …
Yes, libraries hold a special place in my heart and have shaped the person I am. Do you share my love of books and libraries? Leave me a comment about your favorite library and we’ll chat about these magical places.
My very old and battered library card: