Sunday, April 01, 2007


I love libraries. Some of my earliest memories are of summer afternoon trips to the library of my youth. My mother would lead my sister and me up the rather grand (for our tiny town) front steps, all of us decked out in proper afternoon wear including, in the earliest years, gloves and hats.

We'd spend hours choosing the week's reading material, always with recommendations from the librarian, who took a special interest in two tiny, voracious readers. My mother would vanish into the adult stacks where we were expressly forbidden to follow. Upon occasion, we'd steal around the corner just to gaze at the mysterious dark aisles where the grownups went, marveling at the towers of books crammed onto the shelves, wishing we could experience those wonders ourselves.

When I started skipping school in 8th grade, a smarty pants straight A ultra confident student run aground on the shoals of pre-algebra, I only skipped across the street from my junior high, straight up those grand steps and into the periodicals room of the library. There, I'd spend the rest of the school day reading everything I could get my hands on. I was particularly enthralled by news magazines and I read them all indiscriminately: US News & World Report, The Nation, Newsweek, Time, Life, Look, National Review, New Republic.

Within a few months, I discerned a difference and, baby Democrat that I was, focused on the more progressive of the news magazines, plus the New Yorker, Village Voice, Rolling Stone. When I found the New York Times and Washington Post, I was exhilarated and I began to crave those afternoons of reading as something delicious and separate from my wish to escape the trials of mathematics.

I dreamed of being somewhere else on those forays to the library. Much of the time I dreamed of being someone else, someone interesting and alive, living an exciting life vastly different from a Ponca City East Junior High School 8th grader's. In that sunny corner of the library, buried in periodicals of every kind, I became aware of the world in a completely new and inspiring way. I began to realize that my life was mine alone and I could live it any way I wanted to. There was much going on in the world that was not evident in that small town: I couldn't wait to grow up and get out in it. The library did that for me.

My grandsons have never been inside one. They buy the occasional book at Target, at Borders. But they're not big readers, the two older boys. They have an immense collection of DVDs: action movies, everything Disney, and a pile of games to play on their whatever-it's-called-this-year electronic game player. I think they're missing out on something important and in writing that I feel somewhat like a grouchy old fuck.

That brand of obsession with reading, with books, with a wish to know what's happening elsewhere, I think it's dying out. I don't wish my grandsons would skip school and head off to read, but I do wish they could develop some sense of a world larger than the one we inhabit in this community, this state, this country, and I don't want that world to be something that exists only in the software of a computer.

I go to a little branch library now, the one close to my house. I order my books online or go over for an evening to see what's on the shelves. I love my local place; it has the classic scent of old paper and binding materials and that exquisite hush that makes everything seem just a little more special. My library is furnished with grand antique mission oak furniture. I check out 5-6 books every week or two; the librarians love me and make recommendations of reading material they think I'll like. They're quick to reassure me when I ask every month or so if George Bush and his squad of thugs can access my list of reading material, and they laugh with me as I wonder aloud whether that paranoia is justified.

I often wish that I could skip out of my life for an entire day and sink into the luxury of having an excess of time and an endless supply of books. I'd head to the giant library downtown, sneak in my thermos of coffee and make piles of magazines and books and papers that strike my fancy. Then I'd binge on the dual treats of time and reading.

Do you go to your library? Do you think they're dying out? I can't imagine a world without them, but so many things have vanished just in the last 20 years or so. Could libraries also disappear?


Blogger Red7Eric said...

While I hope that libraries would NOT die out, I confess that I haven't been to one in a good long while. I tend to buy my books from a great used bookstore where they only cost three or four bucks a shot and I never have to give them back if I don't want to. It's weird that it never even occurs to me that I could check them out for FREE if I so chose.

I just finished a two year graduate school program, and never once entered a library. All of my research was done via the textbooks they gave me, and articles that were available for printing on the university online "blackboard."

That's WEIRD, eh?

April 01, 2007 11:19 PM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

I work in a library, but an academic library, not the public library. (I'd much prefer the latter!) When I was a kid, I loved the library -- always had a stack of books checked out. My Great Dane once ate a college Biology textbook I'd checked out; mom was not happy about paying for that. (She still brings it up every now again!)

When my kids were little, the library was a weekly trip (at least), lugging 2 big canvas bags out. They're all voracious readers now -- even my video and movie obsessed son. I think it has a lot to do with the library being such a big part of their childhood.

I can't imagine libraries not being around. I do see libraries moving away from print and more toward online and other technology, at least the academic libraries. I think the new technologies are great, but I don't want to lose books. Honestly though, I can't imagine that ever happening. There's just something about books...

April 02, 2007 12:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LIke you, I order my books online and pick them up at the local branch, but I don't spend any time there, and I don't know the librarians. For some reason libraries make me sneeze.


April 02, 2007 1:22 AM  
Blogger Marshmallow said...

For a long time, I hadn't been to a library because of the no eating, no drinking thing. Soon the public libraries realised that everyone was sitting in Borders, not actually BUYING books, but picking them off the shelves, getting a coffee from Gloria Jeans, reading the books and then putting them back on the shelves once they were done.

Now a few libraries in New Zealand have in-built cafes, completely throwing out the No Food In the Library rule, and I've seen people start to go back. Myself included.

April 02, 2007 2:40 AM  
Blogger Debbi said...

When I was 10, my family moved from the suburbs of a large city to a small town where everything was within walking distance. It didn't take me long to find the library, and there were many summer days where I'd check six books out every day.

Now the nearest library is a 12-mile drive and I rarely go. I support Friends of the Library, though, and donate books every time we cull our collection.

Your post has made me feel quite nostalgic. Thanks.

April 02, 2007 3:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lynette! Finally 'clicked' on your blog after enjoying your comments on JoeMyGod!!

Yes I occasionally visit the library here in Christchurch, New Zealand, but I especially like visiting a local bookstore which has a terriffic cafe attached!! Some of our smaller suburban libraries have been threatened with closer, much to the horror of the parents and schoolteachers. Protests have often resulted in them remaining. Research has suggested that boys are not as good at reading, esp 'serious' writing, as girls are.

bjc in NZ

April 02, 2007 5:38 AM  
Anonymous Tater said...

I have both fond and fickle memories about the library. As a youngster, I was enthralled, because the library meant hours of grand escape into fiction. As I got older, the library came to symbolize many things I disliked. I dispised the stifling rules, and the nonfiction reading I was doing was hardening my heart against the world (die hard liberalism entered my veins with the early adoption of empathy gleaned from reading). In my teens, the library psychology books informed me that I was basically an insane and perverted person for being gay, and caused me to feel isolated and alone. So you see, mixed feelings, just like life I guess. In any case, I enjoyed your stroll down memory lane, and I too, am a sense memory person. The smell of the library is something that never seems to change, and instantly takes me into my past.

April 02, 2007 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With 3 young daughers (11 yr old twins and a 6 six year old) I can't afford to buy new books (unless I get the bargain books at Barnes & Noble but that so limits my selection). So every other week we head to the library. When they ask, how many can we get mom? I always answer, as many as you want!!! I read 3 - 4 books a week as a kid. I'm glad I have passed that on... especially since the twins have reading/comprehenson problems the fact that they STILL want to read and get better at it really impresses me.

I'm not sure if the library will die out. You can't snuggle up with a laptop and read and for us semi-"poor" parents out there we'll always need the library...

The best gift the kids got this Christmas (in my opinion) was $300 from one of their grandfathers - I used that $ and bought ALL books at Barnes & Noble!


April 02, 2007 11:02 AM  
Anonymous michael said...

I don't think libraries will ever die out, but I do thnk their function will continue to change. As more and more research material is available online I can see those sections of libraries becoming smaller - especially with the free internet access they provide.

April 02, 2007 2:26 PM  
Blogger Tank said...

I love this post. It brought back childhood library memories of Mrs Dunkley stamping out the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys and Henry Higgins books to the young and eager TankMontreal.

This post teaches me that childhood library experiences of many of us are quite similar. Libraries are libraries are libraries.

Working in a library (albeit academic) as i do, i can tell you they'll never disappear. Books themselves may be on the wane, but there'll always be a need for public collections of the written word.

April 02, 2007 8:37 PM  
Blogger lisalgreer said...

I go every week; I love libraries. I have spent so many hours in musty buildings with books... some of my best friends. :) Yes, I do think libraries are dying out.

April 03, 2007 7:55 PM  
Blogger Marc Olson said...

Thanks for reposting this on FB. I never got to it.

I also spent a lot of time in my youth hiding out in libraries. I loved to read old LIFE and National Geographics, among other things.

I especially liked really old, old antiquated libraries. One day in a small-town college library in the midwest that had been established around the time of the Civil War, I decided to see if I could find books that hadn't been checked out for a long time.

I found an obscure book on religion that had last been stamped out in 1906. I was amazed that the book had remained on the shelves for all that time and that I was one of very few, or perhaps the only person, who had taken an interest in the book since my grandfather was a baby.

I did lots of interesting things in libraries...too much for a comment here. Maybe I'll post about it one of these days....

August 16, 2012 5:15 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Just when I thought libraries might be in jeopardy, my town built a beautiful one within walking distance of our husband takes the grand girls there at least once a week, and it's such a part of their world. He is an avid library person, having worked at the SFSU library during his time there, and almost majoring in library science. LOVED the post and comments.....

August 16, 2012 7:24 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

Marc, I wish you would. That's incredible, that a book was sit on the shelves for more than half a century completely untouched. At least it still existed, that obscure volume. What happens to a Kindle book forgotten for so long a time?

Chris, that's wonderful to hear. I think you're giving your girls something very special. I've never met an ardent library lover with whom I was not also politically compatible. Hmmm... wonder what that means? ;-)

August 17, 2012 6:47 AM  
Anonymous The Broad said...

I went to one yesterday! It was an accident. As I was searching for a nearby dental office, I just happened to park in front of MEL (Merida English Library)! A few weeks ago, when I was in New Orleans, we drove past the Nix Library where I spent every possible free moment reading. I love the ceiling height, the long tables, the stacks of books, the forbidden books, the librarian, my library card - all of it. Though MEL is not the same, it smells right, so I will go again.

August 17, 2012 1:10 PM  

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