Ode to My Library


Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Thomsen

I forgot about libraries for a little while. I think it happened because studying English in college bombards you with reading, and whatever fun reading I did was in snippets and chunks and I had more than enough of my own books to fill those few moments.

After graduation, I rediscovered the library.

Wait, you’re telling me there’s a place where you can read books and watch movies FOR FREE?

[insert snarky remark from father about “nothing’s free” and “taxpayers” and “argh”]

I walked to the library swinging my arms and I walked back home with them full.

~     ~     ~

The library of my childhood was a tiny one-room schoolhouse that had been converted. The children’s room was in the basement, and I remember the musty smell and the red shag carpeting. The librarian was sharp, as all children think librarians are, and the books I remember most are the long shelf of yellow-spined Nancy Drew books, the Little House books, and the audio books to help me learn French (I was a little precocious).

[I was reading On the Banks of Plum Creek on a bright summer afternoon. I left it in the seat of the swing – to do what, I don’t know – and it poured overnight, huge sheets of rain. I was horrified at the puffy, destroyed mess, and when I returned it with my head hanging, I didn’t think they’d let me check anything out ever again.]

[I repeatedly checked out the movie Fern Gully, even though it terrified me. I loved the woods, maybe, that’s why. I kept doing it, over and over. Very strange.]

[We discovered a Your Body book, me and my best friend, and we huddled in the corner, giggling. The librarian didn’t say anything, but her eyes burned me when she walked by. That was probably the worst thing I had done to that point.]

When I was in third grade, my Laura Club gave a presentation during the Summer Reading Program. We talked about pioneers and the Little House books. We made sugar cookies from Laura’s cookbook and homemade lemonade. We felt like grown-ups, and when I look at the pictures, I can’t believe how little we were.

~     ~     ~

In high school, a new library was built, bigger and more modern. It was even closer to my house, and when I was sixteen the same best friend and I got a job shelving books. Every Thursday night and one Saturday a month, you could find me in the stacks trying to remember how to shelve “Mc” and “Mac” and which went first and shoot! I got extremely well-versed in the alphabet. I also timed myself to see how many books I could shelve in ten minutes. Sometimes the job got a little too quiet…

~     ~     ~

This past week, I walked to the library to check out Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for my book club. I also found a book on writing nonfiction, and I checked out two movies, Skyfall and A Few Good Men (simultaneously feeding my love of British things and my love of Tom Cruise). My mind is being opened up with four pieces of art, and other than taxes, I didn’t pay a dime.

Libraries are one my favorite things about the modern world. So much knowledge under one roof.

If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all—except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty. – John F. Kennedy

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