I revel in my membership in the public library system.
I have a vivid memory of one perfect Library Day when I was seven years old. One of our regular family Saturday stops was the local library. It was a rainy gray day in the spring or the fall, cool enough to need a jacket but not too cool for comfort. I had gathered all the books I was allowed to check out, and hurried back to the car. As soon as I settled in the seat, I dove in and went away. That day it was a book about dinosaurs. I was mesmerized by the idea of dinosaurs (a common fascination for children, I think). I probably made my parents crazy with questions: How long is eighty feet? How wide is forty feet? And then I'd look around at whatever they used to show me those measurements and marvel at the idea of an animal that huge. In those days, previous readers' names and due dates were hand-written (by Miss Feeney, the prototypical 1950s librarian) on the cards in the sleeves inside the back covers. Those cards were interesting too. Who else, I wondered, touched these pages and read these words, and what did they think? Did they marvel too?
For a few years I had stopped visiting the library and I can't remember why. The need for immersion in book air was satisfied by plundering used bookstores (piles of books for $10!) but I began to accumulate far too many books and ended up donating two lawn-and-leaf bags of books to the Literacy Volunteers for their book sale so I could regain some shelf space at home.
Every time I walk into the old place that is my current local library, I stop for a minute and look around with quiet glee. All the hours and hours of pleasure, in one building, for free! My local library is the perfect library building (although any building is good if it has books in it). I prefer old house conversions over modern perfectly-styled-for-library-use buildings.
I have always loved creaky-floored libraries all redolent of book-scent; I like some history and character around me as I pore over the titles, all wrapped in their crackly mylar coverings. I love that I need the battered old stepstool to reach the uppermost shelves near the ten-foot ceiling. I love that there's an old round oak claw-foot table with mismatched chairs where I can sit to review my choices, and a needlepoint-seated rocker near the fireplace. Oh, comfort! Oh, atmosphere!
I was there just yesterday. I stopped on my way home from work to retrieve a couple of books that I'd ordered online from other locations in the library system. The best library trips are the ones that send me home with an armload, and yesterday was one of those; more of my online orders had arrived since the email notification had reached me. A wonderful thing, this online browsing of every book in the whole regional system. Click a check-box and know that a book is on its way to me from thirty miles away. For free. Other modern improvements . . . the free internet access and the DVDs for lending are good, but for me, it's all about the books.
As I checked out, I said to the clerk, "Oh boy. And it's Friday!"
No Miss Feeney, this pierced young lady, but a bibliophile all the same, she responded with that particular pleasure, "Yeah! The whole weekend for books!"