Author Holly Robinson recently wrote a great blog piece about her love of public libraries. I, too, have had a life -long love affair with those wonderful buildings housing the billions of words and bits of writers’ imaginations and souls within their walls. Here’s why….
As an only child raised in a family of elderly great aunts and grandmothers, I didn’t have an opportunity to play much with kids my age because, well, there weren’t any! It’s probably why I’m not such a great game player even at this age. While my peers were with one another enjoying a game of Mousetrap or Soul Survivor or any Milton-Bradley or Hasbro game you can remember, I was usually in the company of older people who didn’t want to play a board game, but who preferred to sit and drink and talk and fight with one another.
Yeah, I know: not a great childhood, but it was all I knew.
I was also a latchkey kid — a term I don’t think is used too widely these days. My parents both worked full time and from the age of 8 I no longer had an after school babysitter who’d watch me until my parents came home from work, usually around 7 each night. I was on my own from the time school let out at 3 until the evening, five days a week. Now, I could tell you that the temptations to be naughty and to veer toward the dark side and get into mischief were strong. But I had something that helped me fight those demons calling my name to act up and be bad: my local Library.
I would be dismissed every day from school and then walk the ten city blocks-alone-to the beautiful, brick faced, three story building overlooking New York harbor. First, I’d find an empty table in the kid’s section and do my homework. That usually took about 10 minutes! Then, I’d explore the book racks. I was an expert at the Dewey decimal system categories by the age of 9 and to this day, still order my own books in my home library using the same clarification system.
In that first year I read all the books in the kid’s section that were in my age group and most of the teen category as well. Nowadays this is called YA( for young adult), but back then they were all labeled as “Teen” reading. I learned all I needed to know about love, sex, hate, and teenage angst before the age of 1o. I devoured the complete works of Agatha Christie, Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew. I consumed the books in the biography section, learning everything I could about women leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart and Queen Victoria. Even back then I realized I could be whatever my imagination told me I could, despite being a girl.
You may have read that last sentence and said, WHAT??!! but remember, I was raised in the sixities when girl power was still in its infancy. It would be another 10 years before Gloria Steinem came along and preached female empowerment. And Title IX hadn’t been established yet.
Since I was most comfortable with older folks and not my peers, I had no trouble connecting with the librarians on a personal level, and I can tell you truthfully and without hubris, they loved me. Knowing how much I adored reading, and the categories I loved most, the librarians would routinely pull new arrivals for me to check out first. Loved that! Who else can boast they were spoiled by librarians?
The library became my second home, and in some ways, it was my refuge, a steady foundation against a home life that wasn’t exactly the American Dream. Within the walls of the library, I could get lost- safely- and go exploring. Again, back before there was Internet and Google, we did research the old-fashioned way: by combing through encyclopedias and trolling through microfiche. I think part of the problem I’m so tech-NO-savvy is because I still long for those little cellophane negative film strips covered with oodles of information that were sosososo much more easy to use than a computer. But that’s just me….
As I matured, my reading material did as well. By the time I reached my teens, the librarians were helping me find my calling in life. They knew I wanted to be a nurse or a doctor, so they introduced me to medical books and manuals routinely reserved for the medical community. Before I started Nursing school and College I was already proficient in medico-terminology, policies, and procedures. One librarian in particular guessed I like to write – how I will never know – but she would often pull books for me about craft and editing. She was the one who introduced me to the Publisher’s Weekly news magazine ( which I believe is all digital now) and would save them when they arrived each week for me to view.
These lovely, educated, warm and maternal women became my mentors, my friends, my surrogates. Most of them have probably passed on by now, but the wonderful memories I have of how they treated me, how special they made me feel, and how much they taught me, will be with me for the rest of my life. Maya Angelou said once,
“… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Can I just get an “AMEN” for that? It’s true.
There are as many pundits these days who state “Print is Dead” as there are those who espouse that print books will always be popular, especially if we have places to house them-namely, libraries. To this day I support my local library. In fact, tomorrow is the first day of the bi-annual book fundraising sale, of which I attend every session. All the proceeds raised go toward the library’s operating budget, since the city has had to economize and cut funding every place it can. There will never be a danger of the library closing its doors due to lack of funds while I have breath in my body!! That is fact and I know KNOW I am not alone in my thinking.
Show the love to your local libraries. Donate the books you have read and don’t want to keep. Support local authors ( very subtle hint, here!). Encourage your children and the kids you know to read. Reading is the single best gift you can give your child to help her/him explore their imaginations, develop critical thinking skills, and go into the world armed with the knowledge and expertise necessary to improve the world, their lives, and those of future generations.
I love libraries so much, I have a Pinterest board just for great libraries around the world. Check it out, here.
And when I’m not at my local library, you can find me here: