When I was growing up, one of my favorite adventures was accompanying my parents to the library. There was a beautifully illustrated Cinderella (way superior to Disney’s version) that I checked out as much as possible and wish now I could find in a used bookstore somewhere.
I spent many happy hours reading at the library, and my parents always encouraged me to check out plenty of books. There’s still that one science fiction book from when I was in late elementary school or maybe already middle school, the one about the girl who finds out she’s actually a clone when she takes an unplanned detour that lands her face-to-face with one of her clones. I read it quite happily for 20 or 30 minutes and then set it back on the shelf, for some reason not checking it out. I regretted that decision because I wanted to find out what happened but had completely forgotten the name of the book. I searched the shelves for the book on many subsequent trips, never finding it again.
People flock in, nevertheless, in search of answers to those questions only librarians are considered to be able to answer, such as “Is this the laundry?” “How do you spell surreptitious?” and, on a regular basis, “Do you have a book I remember reading once? It had a red cover and it turned out they were twins.”
― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal
My dad was something of a hero at our local library. I had checked out a beautiful picture book on our state, and when the library thought I had lost it (despite my knowing and insisting I had returned it), my dad paid to replace the book. Months passed. The book turned up at the library, mis-shelved. The librarian called to apologize and asked if he wanted his money back. He told them they could consider it a donation. And so, he became a hero to them (which also helped get us out of a few overdue book fines). It’s wise to endear oneself to the local librarian.
I spent hours in my university’s library as an undergrad and again as a graduate student, and I remember feeling horrified when a friend going through my same graduate program a few years after me bragged that he hadn’t set foot in the library for his entire graduate experience. (I remembered the hours I spent photocopying articles that the professors insisted we photocopy at the library, and I wondered if those same professors were going soft on the students coming up behind those of us who spent countless hours and reams of paper fighting with old library photocopiers.)
I don’t remember exactly when I stopped going to the library. There was a transition period, though, somewhere in my adult life when I wanted to own books and not just borrow them. I wanted to read them on my own schedule and savor them without a two-week constraint of when I would have to give them back. I wanted to pick them off of my shelf whenever I wanted to reread them. And on days I didn’t feel like going anywhere, I wanted books at my fingertips.
On my first date with the man who would become my husband, I became smitten when I saw that he had an entire wall dedicated to bookshelves full of interesting books. The week after our first date, he moved into the house that is now our home, and the first major change he made was to transform one room into a library with the help of a carpenter.
To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul.
He gave our house a soul while he was busy capturing my heart.
When we travel, we visit bookstores. Books can make the best souvenirs, much better than thimbles or t-shirts or Christmas ornaments that commemorate where we’ve been because books capture the essence of the place we visited or simply transport us back to where we were when we bought them.
As a result of our travels and a beloved independent bookstore close by, our library overfloweth.
I realized a few months back that I wasn’t reading certain books at all because I wasn’t sure enough about them to buy them, and so I went back to the public library and got a new library card. I had been away long enough that they had erased me from their system. I confess – that stung. But the librarian who helped me with the new card didn’t judge me, at least not out loud or on her face or in her voice. She simply helped me get the new card and then placed my name on the hold list for the two books I had hoped to check out that day. I left with a library card but no books.
Months passed. Every now and then I would wonder if I had given her my email address incorrectly, because surely the books would have worked their way to me by now.
And then, the day the weather forecasters were discussing snow in the apocalyptic kind of way they like to do here in the south, I got an email. One of the books was waiting for me and would stay on the hold shelf for three days. I left within the hour, not wanting to risk losing my book because of a paralyzing snow storm.
While I was at the library, I saw a book by an author I had enjoyed reading before. It was displayed on the “New in hardbacks” shelf, and I scooped it up, too. I was all set for the snow.
Those of you who frequent libraries and know the equal parts curse and joy of the library hold system will by now have remembered that I was still waiting for a second book to come in. And you will guess correctly that I received an email three days after my visit to the library telling me that I had three days to come pick up said book. BookRiot.com had the perfect post ready for me the very next day, and it made me feel better knowing the world was filled with those who could empathize with my plight. (I admit to a small twinge of jealousy that there are libraries that give patrons ten whole days to come pick up their hold books.)
Off I went again to the library to get the third book, taking one book to return, holding on to the other which I had already finished but wanted to reread again the moment I finished it. In a future post, I’ll write more about all three beautiful, moving books.
In the meantime, how well used is your library card? Do you have a favorite library? Prefer bookstores? Do you live in a place rich with both bookstores and libraries? Or a place with neither?