In the first grade, I flipped through pictures in the children’s room of the local library. I carried home books by the bagful, trading in one set for another nearly every week. So long as I had my card, I borrowed to my heart’s content.
My mother walked with me then, and waited patiently as I went through the shelves. She gave me her time, I think, because she knew the library would do me good. Books had not been a factor in her childhood. She had not had a lending library to visit when she was a girl in China.
By the fourth grade, I had moved on to the upper floors of the public library. The shelves were higher, the ceilings taller, the people at the tables older. I learned to use the encyclopedias, the periodicals and the computers; these resources proved invaluable.
I believe public libraries help us in ways we often do not recognize. They introduce us to worlds we would not know otherwise. They provide access.
In college, I bought most of my books. An English major, I purchased piles of short stories, novels and plays from the campus bookstore. I did not go to the library then to borrow books. I went to read the ones I owned.
When the weather turned cold, I went to the library. When neighbors in the dorms cranked up the stereo, I went to the library. When fraternities nearby hosted Friday night parties, I went to the library. Within those old stone walls, I found peace and quiet and refuge.
I also found love… or more accurately infatuation. He was a junior who worked behind the checkout counter. If he showed up unexpectedly one afternoon to begin a shift, I looked for reasons to stay longer and study more. I was silly and serious.
These days, I read and write for work. Filled with notes and knickknacks, the desk is my refuge. But libraries continue to fascinate me. I am astounded still by what they contain: information in all sizes and shapes. So much more in this universe for me to understand.
I am impressed as well by the architecture. In Los Angeles and Vancouver, British Columbia, Boston and Montreal, I have gone to the library to sightsee. I have admired interior lines and exterior curves. On a trip to the Northwest later this year, I will no doubt spend an afternoon in the Seattle Central Library. The light- and energy-infused structure promises to be stunning.
How might life be in these cities, I wonder, with visits regularly to these libraries? I dream of calm spaces and comfortable chairs. So long as I read and write, I believe I will continue to love local libraries.
I dream also of a time in the future when I might accompany a daughter to the checkout counter. She will learn to read for fun, of course, to use her card to her heart’s content, to find refuge among the shelves. I will bring her to the public library not because I couldn’t go when I was a child, like my mother, but because I could.
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