Ponder this:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The public library

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. 
The house was built in 1866 by Jacob Miers, who ran a Dry Goods store on Main Street...  It has two fireplaces made of Italian marble inlaid with gold.  The front newel post is not original to the building; it came from an unknown structure on the grounds of the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.  The property was inherited by Jacob's only child, Hattie Miers and passed through several more owners before being acquired by the Library.

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!"


threecollie said...

You speak to my heart.

Lord Wellbourne said...

Does that library have a guest-suite? As always, dearest June, your posts do not disappoint. I felt the tingle of anticipation walking through the door, my nostrils widened with the scent of old wood and literature. A small suite would suffice--I'll bring my own coffee and step-stool.

June said...

threecollie, I've seen pictures of your bookshelves...I thought you might react that way... ;-)

LW, I wish there were a guest suite; I'd spend holidays there. Maybe a small cot in the foyer, where the marble-topped Victorian hall tree is, would suffice?

Beth Camp said...

What a gorgeous library and meditation on libraries. Your post reminded me that just three years ago we worked as volunteers in New Orleans in a musty basement, uncrating and sorting through boxes of books destroyed by the effects of Katrina. Here in Spokane, we have that same wonderful online ordering system. I hate to say it but I have 24 books checked out right now. And today is Trip to the Library Day!!!!

Linda Myers said...

I love our tiny community library - it's where I pick up my online orders. I skipped the library for many years and just bought what I needed, because I was working and didn't think I'd have time to read the book before it came due. Now, I've got a stack of my own on my nightstand while I put the one library book on the top of the stack.


Friko said...

Any room, any house with books will do for me too.
The room I am sitting in now is book-lined. The smell, holding a book, feeling its weight, all priceless. The worlds one disappears into, endless. The deep sigh of satisfaction and sadness at the same time when a book is finished. It is often hard to let go of the characters of a book; a well-peopled book makes one feel one knows the characters and one will meet them and recognise them.

Perhaps i should get a life?

#1Nana said...

Beautiful library. Ours was built when my children were small. The outside wall is covered with donor bricks. I haven't looked at our family one for ages...must check on my next visit.

With the advent of devices such as Kindle, I wonder how libraries will change?

Autumn Mist said...

What a beautiful building to have a library in. I can't live without a library in the vicinity. The last time I took my books back, hubby had to prize them out of my hands and take them in for me so I didn't choose anything else before going on holiday!

June said...

Beth, Oh good for you! Saving books would come, for me, second only to saving animals.

Linda Myers, maybe that's why I stopped going to the library too...the time pressure. No worries, though, I find. Every spare hour finds me with a book in my hands!

Friko, never fear. It is My Opinion that Readers get to live many lives. Without all the effort. ;-p

#1Nana, I think libraries have already assimilated e-copies of books into their catalogs. Like Friko, I love the feel of a book in my hands, but there are definitely circumstances when e-readers are a godsend.

Autumn Mist, hah! There was one vacation on which I took a SUITCASE full of books. Husband was not pleased. :-*

Those of us who find books to be more than a source of literary entertainment, but a sensual pleasure seem to be great in number. I'm so glad.

Vicki Lane said...

Omigosh! What a beautiful library! We have a lovely new purpose-built library but I still miss our old one that occupied a space that had been a Belk's store and still had the triple mirrors here and there on the walls along with lovely creaking wooden floors.

Your post expresses my feelings for libraries to a T.

June said...

Vicki Lane, I'm pleased that a money-making published author, feel that way about libraries. I shuddered a little when I thought about you reading this . . . hoped you wouldn't find offense in borrowing rather than buying.

broken biro said...

Your library is beautiful!!
Like you, I have strong and wonderful memories of my local library when I was a child... and guess what? At the age of 46 I have just this year started working in there as a library assistant - just in time for its centenary next year! I do love being there - it is so many things: comfort, familiarity, revelation. 8-)

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Oh , library envy !
Ours is very fine , good shelving , loadsa books , an excellent English section .... ah! And there you have it !
It's a Dutch library . Logical , but we English speakers are at the mercy of whoever decides what English book would interest our local public .
The music section , though , is very good . And I can , for a couple of Euros , order whatever is available from any library in Holland .
(The DIY check-in check-out is , as they all are , crap.)