We owe it to each other to tell stories - Neil Gaiman

Monday, 11 April 2011

Something I had to share

The Library: More Than Books; Sometimes A Sanctuary

The Concept Of Sharing A Common Stock Of Books Is One Worth Preserving

I grew up riding my bike to the library. I was a bookish, somewhat solitary child, given to ducking out of whiffle ball games and hiding in the upstairs bathroom to read. When the neighborhood kids came knocking, wondering what happened to their 2nd baseman, my mother, bless her, never gave me away.

On summer mornings, I would bike to swim team practice and stop at the library on the way home. I remember sitting with my new book on the backdoor step on cool June mornings, reading and warming my shivering self in the sunshine.

Our town’s library was homey and small. The children’s section took up the ground floor, fiction on one side, non-fiction on the other. The checkout counter split the difference, and behind the counter was a drinking fountain with water so cold it stung my front teeth, top and bottom.

The fiction section was hit or miss. Most children’s novels started out just fine, but as Annie Dillard reminds me in her gorgeous memoir An American Childhood, they sometimes disappointed.

In fact, it was a plain truth that most books fell apart halfway through. They fell apart as their protagonists quit, without any apparent reluctance, like idiots diving voluntarily into buckets, the most interesting part of their lives, and entered upon decades of unrelieved boredom. I was forewarned, and would not so bobble my adult life; when things got dull, I would go to sea.

It’s almost funny how true that paragraph rings when I read it as an adult. The second half of so many so-called children’s books (this being well before the more recent blooming of many excellent YA novels), old English novels mainly with a smattering of American mysteries, petered out and left me close to frustrated tears.

Non-fiction, to my young mind, was where the action was. Biographies were the best. One sharp children’s librarian kindly pointed out the Childhood of Famous Americans series, and I was hooked. I read those books for two summers, waltzing through the alphabet, wishing myself born at a time when I could pull myself up by my bootstraps, tiptoe through the woods like an Indian and split wood.

When I was 12, my family moved to a bigger place with a bigger, more institutionalized library. Getting there required a trip in the car on busy roads with strip malls and traffic lights. No more biking to the library on a whim. The huge building felt alien and unfriendly. My middle school years, sadly, were lost reading years.

Ten years ago, when my husband and I were expecting our first child and looking to buy a house, my only criteria was that it be within walking distance of a good library.

In the weeks after that first baby was born, shocked by the sudden bracing solitariness of life at home with an infant, I’d often strap little Nell into her front pack and walk to the Mystic & Noank Library, where I’d be sure to find a friendly face behind the desk and the welcome diversion of a new book for the long hours of breastfeeding on the couch.

As our babies grew into toddlers, each in turn was bundled off to Story Hour with Miss Michelle or Miss Roberta or Miss Diane. The kids adored these classes. And now these librarians know my kids. They know what they like to read and set aside books for them. They chat with them. They treat them as real, known people.

Our library is a sanctuary. The building itself is gorgeous, inside and out. But more to the point, the people who work there have become friends. Sometimes when the dishes are done and the kids are in bed, when I crave the feel of something new in my hands, I’ll stroll to the library in the evening dark. I’ll have a little chat about books with Marilyn at the front desk, and leave with something bold to explore, some new adventure under my arm.

The idea of the library, a place for sharing, for everyone contributing to and taking from a common stock of books, is a concept worth preserving. Outside of childhood, we are not a culture prone to sharing. Here in Mystic, we are lucky to have such a lovely space to share. I cannot imagine my life without the library.

http://groton.patch.com/articles/the-library-more-than-books-sometimes-a-sanctuary Pam Dolan.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVED the Young Americans series, too! If I ever found those books, I would buy them in a flash. Thanks for stopping by my blog!


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