For the Love of Libraries

libraryGrowing 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 Today, the stacks have been replaced by The Archives Room, a sealed chamber which can only be visited by adults and only in the company of library personnel who can ensure the safe handling of the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.

37 thoughts on “For the Love of Libraries

  1. Enjoyable read! I recently began re-visiting a nearby library, It’s not the same library that I visited in my youth, but it feels familiar and I’m comforted to be back among books, my friends. Your words flowed nicely,

    “… are all lined up and waiting. Many are new, but just as many are clearly relics of an older age – cloth bound with yellowed pages and filled with quaintly outdated stories.”

    Thank you for sharing.
    ~DaNice D

    • My pleasure, DaNice. Nice to meet so many other library lovers & happy to hear you have a library of your own to visit.

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  3. I feel the same way about our library. I love it to this day. Even the smell of all the books new and old is very fresh in my mind. I just hope the digital age doesn’t take the experience away from those looking to learn in the library. It is irreplaceable.

  4. This is a wonderful post. I’d like to re-blog it on my site soon. I would advise against re reading your childhood favorites. I did that with Pippi Longstockings, and . . . it just wasn’t the same. 50 years hence, it wasn’t quite as migical. Also revisited my childhood neighborhood library one time, and though changed it brought back good memories.

    • I know what you mean about childhood favorites falling short of our memories. I have opened a few only to find that I cannot connect with them the way I once did. That makes me sad, but it’s only natural, I suppose. As we mature, our outlook changes. There are, however, still some “children’s” books that can draw me away and yet also seem able to give me “grown up” insights. Tolkien’s books, the Moomintroll books, and a few others still have the power to charm and teach, even though I’m supposedly an adult. 😉

    • Denise! Hello! So nice to have a Happier friend here. 🙂
      Thanks so much for coming by and taking the time to drop a note. And happy to know my memories stirred some of yours. See you on Happier!

  5. Great story my dad god be good to him instiled in us a love of books and to use the library as a source of fun and knowledge.My mum was delighted when he would bring us every two weeks to get our next collection of books
    . We were a big family so iit was her time for peace and quiet.On the way home he would treat us to bags of sweets from the local newagents under strict instructions that my mum was not to be told,it was an easy secret to keep except that we were never hungry for our dinner after a visit to the library.My mum knew but never said.
    Today many of our library’s are closing due to lack of funds and use.
    A quote I seen once ” When a country starts to burn books eventually they will burn it’s people” The Imperial War Measume

    • What a lovely story. Thank you so much for sharing. I love how the library figured so centrally into such a great family memory.
      And great quote. So very, very true.

  6. I have similar fond memories of the library in my home town in the middle of Ireland. My mum was (and still is) a voracious reader, and from a very young age I remember weekly visits to the library. Like your daughter, I liked to browse on my own, while my mum chose her three books for the week. My strongest memory of the children’s library was discovering Anne of Green Gables, and then all of L.M. Montgomery’s other children’s books. I welled up with tears a few weeks ago when I came across Anne of Green Gables in a bookshop while I was looking for books for my own children.

    I live in the UK now and I guess like everywhere in the world, libraries are under pressure. Sadly small town libraries are struggling to cope with funding cutbacks, but larger libraries are diversifying, and now host public lectures, craft activities and so on. I love these events – one week might see a lecture on cuttlefish, and the next week a showing of a blockbuster movie.

    I live on a small boat with my husband and two small children, so I rely on public libraries to find a quiet space to write. About once a week I take myself off to a library for the day to write in solitude.

    Long live libraries!

    • What lovely memories, and how cool that you live on a boat. (That’s something I could never do – seasickness and all.)
      Our local library does it’s share of lectures and other events. It’s great fun to go and hear a local author or traveler talk about their work and adventures. Next week we’ll be joining a group of library lovers for a pot luck dinner that’s themed around the book that was chosen for the town-wide book club.

      Thanks for sharing & long live libraries, indeed! 🙂

    • Oh, I know! How I loved trundling home with a new haul of books for summer reading. I felt like I’d struck gold! I miss those days, and wish more kids of today’s generation could feel that quiet anticipation as they pored over a new collection of titles. It becomes harder and harder for books to compete against all the technology we have at our fingertips.

      • The children of today do not know about books because it’s not part if their habit. I myself brought my children to the Libary regularly . So it became a habit which is still with the. It’s up to us parents to instill a love of books and library’s.

      • I agree that most kids need to be invited to love books and then have the help of a reading mentor (who may or may not be their parent) to nurture that love. I’m happy to be able to do this for my daughter.

  7. What a lovely post. No wonder you love to read. We are walking distance to our library. I’m thinking of sending the 9 1/2 yr old and the 11 1/2 year old together this summer on their own. I’m sure they’d be gone for hours without me telling them to hurry and choose a book.
    A kind worker suggested The Phantom Tollbooth for my precocious reader several years ago. It is one he frequeently returns to and I’m sure will be well received my the younger sibling in time. I have yet to read it, though. Maybe this summer when they are at the library!

    • Hi, Amy. Thank you.
      We are also walking distance to our library, and my daughter is dying to be allowed to walk there on her own, but I’m not quite ready yet. She’s only 10 (and a half, as she’ll tell you). Perhaps if she were to go with a friend or two it would be okay. We’ll see.

      Though I sometimes wish she would spend time choosing her own books, I am never sorry to have spent time wandering through the children’s room. In fact, I often come home with books that I wind up reading. I’m reading one right now, as a matter of fact – Pay the Piper, written by the fabulous Jane Yolen and her musician son, Adam Stemple. It’s the perfect getaway of a story for this stressful packing/moving time. 😉

      So nice to “see” you here. Can’t wait until life settles and I can get back to enjoying more of your posts.

      • Hi Jamie!
        Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment, especially in the midst of packing and moving. I have been there a few years ago and have had my share of stress. I wrote a post about it. Save it for when you need a break and a good laugh:

        I have not heard of this Jane Yolen book in particular, even though I am a fan of hers. Maybe the next time I visit the library.

        I hear you on the age of our children and trying to make decisions that we feel are best for them in this particular moment in their lives. I guess I try to get a sense of what they are ready for and give them practice opportunities at growing up. My son recently asked to walk to a nearby coffee shop that also sells ice-cream with two buddies. It’s funny that we have lived here the shortest amount of time, but walk a lot in our neighborhood and know where everything is. He had to show his friends where this place was. Best of luck with your move!

      • Thanks for sharing your post, Amy. I am feeling that pain, though I don’t have a moving truck or a closing to worry about. (Thank goodness!)

        Mostly, I’m just chipping away a little bit at a time. Like you, I focused first on purging … so now, four days from my move, I have not yet packed a thing and am practicing calming breaths to avoid a total panic attack. Happily, we’re only moving around the corner (almost literally, but not quite), so it doesn’t need to be a very “careful” move. I plan to start taking carloads of clothes and books before the Big Move. One day (one box) at a time. 😉

        RE: the Yolen book, I hadn’t seen it either. Looks like it was published in 2005. It’s apparently part of a loose trilogy that includes two other books called Troll Bridge and Big Ugly Guy.

        Well – back to packing. Can’t let myself get too comfy at the computer just yet. 😉


    • I’d love to have a library as my first home – like a live-in librarian. That would be cool! 🙂

  8. Pingback: Friday Fun – Books You Still Think About | Live to Write – Write to Live

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