I have used the library most of my life, starting with the Public Library in Camden, Arkansas.* Momma checked out books for me until, when I was about seven or 8, she took me to get my own library card. We climbed the steps to the red brick building, pushed open the heavy door, and stepped inside. As always, I immediately noticed how quiet it was, hearing only the sounds of hushed voices and the librarians checking in and reshelving books. Approaching the desk, Momma told the librarian I wanted to get my own library card. She smiled, took my name, completed the paperwork, and handed me my card with a reminder to bring it with me when I wanted to check out books.
I then headed to the children’s section to slowly look through the shelves of books. While I had books at home to read, the library gave me a larger selection to explore, and I believe having access to them helped grow my interest in reading. Finally selecting a few new ones along with some favorites, I carried them to the desk and handed them and my card to the librarian. She removed the check out cards, stamped them with the return date, and handed the books back to me, telling me to enjoy them. I walked out feeling very grown up.
As I got older, there were fewer trips to the library. I amassed quite a collection of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, which I read and reread, and romance novels. By high school, English classes required reading many classic works, and with other homework, left little time for pleasure reading. This situation only worsened when I was in college and graduate school. By now, trips to the library were to conduct research for school projects. This was the 1980s before you could find information with an internet connection and a few clicks of a computer mouse. I would wander through the stacks for the books I needed, carefully checking what was located on either side of it, a tip I learned from a professor that I continue using today. Sometimes what I needed was stored on microfilm or microfiche, or was located in a specialized library elsewhere on campus. Other times the resource wasn’t available locally but could be obtained through interlibrary loan, another wonderful service offered by libraries. I cannot count the hours I spent researching and studying in libraries as a young adult. The quiet atmosphere, which I had first noticed as a child, was the perfect change to department study rooms or cramped student housing. Living in England for a year, I researched my Master’s degree thesis in a nearby library, soaking up the history that surrounded me.
In my mid-30s, I moved to a new city as a stay-at-home mom with a four-year-old child. I had time to read for pleasure again, and went to the local library to find books for both of us and to pass on the tradition of exploring shelves to find new things to read. The nearest branch was located in a converted 1903 school building. Our footsteps echoed as we walked down the wood floor until we reached the old door that creaked as we opened it. Inside was the room that housed the library. While small in size, it offered a good selection that was regularly rotated with other books from the library system, as well as Children’s Story Time every Wednesday afternoon. Several years later, a new branch was built, replacing the cramped space in the school building and providing a larger selection of books, plenty of room to sit and read, and ample parking. It was wonderful to be able to find more books close to home, yet I missed the coziness of the previous location, perhaps a reminder of the small library I had frequented as a child.
Moving to Daytona Beach, I quickly got a library card and took advantage of other things the local library offered: free wi-fi when my apartment didn’t have it, a quiet place to work, and DVDs to borrow and watch. Even after I moved and had internet access, I continued using the library, both in person to check out books, and from my computer at home to download books to read on my Kindle. Like many things, I took it for granted, thinking the library would always be there. Then Hurricane Irma blew through in the early morning hours of September 11, 2017, the rain and tidal surge flooding many buildings downtown, including the local library that I use. Seven months later, it is still closed, and I have missed having a library close by, being able to stop in and check out books to take home and browse the shelves of books for sale to find new treasures for my collection.
The latest report is the library plans to reopen in May. I hope so. Libraries have always been in my life, playing a variety of roles as my life has changed. I hope there is always a library nearby.
What role have libraries played in your life?
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*The photo of my hometown library in Camden, Arkansas was taken in late December 2010. Six months later, the library caught fire one night and was destroyed. The library was rebuilt in a new location.