Monday, March 29, 2010

Oh Library!

The recent debate over the plight of our elementary school libraries has me reminiscing about childhood at my hometown public library. I have my mother to thank for taking me there every week. She let me check out 10 books, and I can always remember scrambling to find them all before it was time to return them again.

The library became a place of comfort for me. The smell of the books was kind of peppery in my mind. It had a strange salty sweetness and the quiet of the library wrapped around the smell to make it a kind of cocoon. I can still picture the broad flat tables of my youth, the high tall shelves pressed close together so that the library stacks became sort of hiding places dark and comforting. I would sit down in a corner and read book jackets to choose my week’s reading. I knew exact places on the shelf where I could find my favorite books and would return to the spots again and again touching the shelf as if a talisman.

In those days the book had a pocket in the back and the librarian would slip in a numbered card with a date stamped on it, which let me know when it was due. She took a card out of the pocket and stamped it with a machine that went ka-thunk. I loved the steady thunk of the machine stamping my number on their card. It has been replaced now by the beep of the scanner, beeping books into people’s book bags.

When I started elementary school, the school librarians dutifully taught us the Dewey decimal system: an ingenious method of classfying and storing books. I loved it for its elegance and precision. I was honored when in the third grade the librarian, Miss Weiss, let me and several of my friends stay in for recess and help her shelve books. Miss Weiss was usually at lunch and my girlfriends and I had our run of the library. From third grade on I rarely went outside for recess. A fact that now seems odd to me, but at the time I did not miss it at all. Recess for me was in the shelves of my elementary library. I was not alone either. My best friends ran alongside of me, shelving books and putting books on shelves in order – a term known as reading shelves. I loved to read shelves, but more, I loved to see what all the possibilities were for me to read. I would frequently get side tracked while shelving books to admire a new book. From the age of 8 until I left Dale Rice Elementary School, I spent virtually every recess in the school library.

When I went onto the junior high I sought refuge in the library as a way to duck out of study hall. Within minutes of entering the cafeteria at some off hour for my first study hall, I knew I would not be spending much time in the stinky café. I asked for a library pass and met the librarian Mr. Dreifort. Mr. Dreifort wanted no part of me shelving books. They were precious to him and order was not something to be trusted to a 7th grader, but he did allow me the coveted seat behind the desk and showed me how to check out books. There I sat every day during 7th period reigning queen of the library. I never darkened a study hall doorstep again.

When I got to high school it was now second nature for me. The librarian at the high school was only too glad to have me. Mrs. McIntyre allowed me to do whatever I wanted which eventually turned out to be having a bit of a social life in the library. My friends and I all hung out at the library. Every morning we gathered at tables where we would do homework, talk and chatter about the day. Ms McIntyre would watch and smile, glad to have me come by and chat, but somehow the books took second place while I was finding my footing in the world.

But the love of books, the comfort that surrounds me when I am in a library, certain that the answer to any problem is in a book, is what I have carried with me all these years.

I need to give a shout out to the sweet librarians who over the years have guided me and nurtured me and let me run amok in their stacks. Sweet home library. For all the librarians of the MCCSC, I salute you, somewhere out there, the kids like me who found a home in your spaces will be missing out. I hope we can see our way clear to reinstate this very valuable resource to our schools.

--Amy for the Poplar Grove Muse

1 comment:

  1. We are so fortunate to have amazing libraries in this town!!! I LOVE our libraries!