Andrea here, musing on libraries—brick and mortar libraries—and how much they have had an influence on my life. The pandemic has made me aware of many everyday pleasures that may be small ones, but are things I have missed very much during the lockdown we’ve all experienced over the past half a year.
Libraries visits are one of them. The access to digital books through my local library’s app and website has been a godsend during the isolation, but the recent progress in my town, allowing the physical libraries (we have three!) to to provide curbside pick-up—and also to open for two hours each day for very limited browsing of the new acquisitions—has made me happier than I expected. The sight of the shelves with all those glorious books, the scent of paper . . . they stir fond memories, going back to my childhood.
Our local library was at the end of the main street in the small town where I grew up, and my mother knew she could leave me in the children’s reading room while she went shopping and I’d never wander away from my chair. Among the many treasures I discovered there were Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows and Charlotte’s Web; the swashbuckling deeds of King Arthur and Robin Hood; the wonderful books, Rabbit Hill and The Fabulous Flight, by local author Robert Lawson.
What they had in common was how they sparked my imagination and encouraged a sense of curiosity, wonder and adventure. I was one of those girls who wasn’t very interested in girly things, and my storybook friends, be they Bear, Badger, Mole, knights or just other children, helped me dare to think outside the box.
Those books that I discovered in the library when I was a child—those stories of quests and of courage in the face of fear; those stories celebrating the power of friendship, and the power of love—were elemental in shaping who I am as a writer to day.
I found books magical. (I suppose it’s no surprise that I wrote my first book at age five. It was a Western, with full color illustrations. And yes, I’m still a lousy speller.) The power of storytelling—that alchemy of words on paper which take you to wondrous places and introduce you to wondrous friends—was transformational.
Ours was a household of books—my brothers and I were all avid readers, encouraged by our parents to explore the world of stories. But the library offered such a broad range of treasures. I never got tired of poking around and delighted in finding unexpected pleasures.
One memorable library moment involving my mother came when I was in fifth grade. Our town was very small, and at that time, the town library was in a separate section of the school library. Bored with the kiddie books, I went into the adult library (which we weren’t supposed to do) and found a book on Jacques Cousteau and his scientific work with sharks. I was fascinated, and walked up to the desk to check it out. And was promptly told I wasn’t allowed to check out adult books.
Umm, Cousteau and sharks wasn’t exactly Lady Chatterley’s Lover—not that I knew enough to say that to the librarian. But I did insist that my mother would definitely let me read it. Taking up the challenge, the librarian telephoned my Mother, and explained to her that children weren’t allowed in that part of the library, expecting her to back up the authorities.To her credit, my Mother replied—quite forcefully I learned later—that it was a ridiculous rule and that I had permission from her to take any book I wanted. (thank you, Mom!)
I still get goosebumps when I visit special libraries—the Bodleian Library, the New York Public Library in Manhattan, the British Library in London and the Library of Congress in Washington DC are just a few of my favorites. And I still love the feeling of walking through the doors of my local libraries and perusing the shelves for new arrivals, or undiscovered classic.
For me, the free public library system—allowing everybody access to books—is one of the best things we ever did in this country.
What about you? Are you a lover of libraries? Did you frequent them as a kid? Do you have any favorite libraries or favorite library stories from over the years?