Growing up, our local library was almost a second home to me. Both my parents worked, so in the afternoons my sister and I would often walk the short distance from school to the library and spend a couple of hours tucked away in what was then a modest children’s room. Though the library has undergone several major renovations, including the children’s room, I can still see that room in my mind’s eye.
The circulation desk was in the center of the room and was flanked on two sides by tall, metal bookshelves that never seemed quite firmly rooted to the floor. On the third side was a bank of lower shelves whose configuration created a small nook in one corner of the room. The tiled floor of that nook was made slightly cozier by the addition of several rather worn vinyl recliner cushions. I loved that little corner and those dilapidated cushions.
Though I likely read hundreds of books while curled up in that spot, for some reason I have particular memories of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Pyrdain. (I really must read those again.) I also wistfully recall a book whose author and title have long escaped me, but whose heroine I still remember – Kira, the girl who could talk to the animals of an enchanted forest. I wanted to be Kira.
Across the hall from the children’s room was “the stacks”, an eerie, dimly lit place full of old books that smelled of dust and mildew. Ours is an old New England town and many of our books are quite venerable. Back in the day, the stacks was where you went to kiss boys before your mother picked you up to go home for dinner. Today, the stacks have been replaced by The Archives Room, a sealed chamber which can only be visited by adults and only in the company of library personnel who can ensure the safe handling of the records and volumes stored there.
Above the basement abode of children’s room and stacks is the library proper. Broken into several rooms, the space is reminiscent of a grand house from a bygone era. Beyond the modest foyer is what would be the great room, the largest space in the building crowned by a balcony that runs around all four walls. Upon the balcony is where some of the oldest books reside, ones not quite old or rare enough to warrant climate controlled storage in the archives, but still quite interesting. I recently found a charming late nineteenth century book all about the origins of different meanings. And somewhere on those shelves is (I hope) a tiny volume on unicorn lore. It used to live downstairs, on the main floor of the library, just to the right of the circulation desk and quite near to the Tolkien books. It has been decades since I’ve seen that book, but it has never left my memory. I can still see the etchings that illustrated what appeared to be a field guide. I wish I could find it again.
Anyway, years passed. I outgrew the children’s room and once I was in high school, I visited the town library less and less frequently. Not only was the school library nearer to hand, I was also working at my parents’ print shop after school. After graduation, the library and I experienced a long dry spell. Life got busy. I was rarely home. I went to Boston College for a year. I worked in Boston, then Gloucester, then Wenham. Years passed. I got married and, eventually, had a little girl of my own. Finally, it was time to come home to the library.
My daughter is ten years-old now. We have made weekly trips to the library since she was about two. Though she thoroughly enjoys the books we bring home for bedtime, she has never liked choosing them. She prefers to wander around the upstairs library where our friend, Laura, works. So, while they visit, I peruse the shelves in the larger, modernized children’s room. The ambiance is not quite the same, but I swear that the vinyl cushions are the ones I sat in as a child. I will happily spend an hour running my fingers along the spines of the books, all lined up and waiting. Many are new, but just as many are clearly relics of an older age – clothbound with yellowed pages and filled with quaintly outdated stories. I wonder what the characters from those books would think of today’s heroes and villains.
One of my favorite things about the old children’s room was the entrance. Though you could get there from the main library, it was much more fun to enter by the side door which was tucked down behind a cast iron fence on the corner of the building. I always got a little thrill descending those stairs. There used to be a roof which gave you the feeling of being in a tunnel. It felt like I was entering a subterranean hideaway.
But time marches on and things change. Though I miss the charm of the old place, I’m grateful almost beyond words that we not only still have a library, but our town and citizens have seen fit to invest in it. Our library is one of the lucky ones, and it’s lovely to be back.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.