A couple of my recent posts reminded me of another relationship deeply associated with my love of books — one with public libraries.
I was lucky in that I grew up with plenty of books around. Yet even though there were books at home, my parents always enrolled me in the local library’s summer reading programs. The children’s section of my hometown Carnegie library was in the basement of the building. The steps down to it took you under the grand staircase that went up to the main library. It was always dark and cool and the illumination from the window in the door to the children’s section seemed to reinforce that you were about to enter someplace special, a place that could take you anywhere. While I did all the things kids under 10 do, I was also more than happy to spend hours at the library. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was only five blocks from my home.
When the library moved to a bigger building shortly after I hit double digits, I loved its long rows of bookshelves. I would wander up and down them, usually outside the children’s or young adult sections, often walking out with an armful of books. Of course, the fact there was a period where I failed to check out many of them did get me in a bit of trouble with both the library and my parents.
High school and college impacted the time I spent in public libraries. Yet even when I interned and then later worked in Pierre, it was not unusual for me to spend time roaming the State Library. I still think it almost unpardonable that it no longer allows citizens to walk in, browse the stacks and then check out books.
I’ve been a heavy library user all my adult life. Perhaps proving we are both nerds, my wife and I have spent many enjoyable weekend days together browsing around the main or one of the branch libraries and then going out for lunch or dinner. As a result, we’re hoping the new branch is built as planned in 2011 as it will be only about a half mile from our house. I doubt there are many days in any given year when there isn’t one or more library books in our home (although unlike almost 40 years ago, mine have all been checked out).
Granted, I love exploring bookstores, too. But public libraries have always been — and always will be — special and unrivaled places for me.
…the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it.
Isaac Asimov, I. Asimov: A Memoir