Libraries I Have Known

The Southern Belle was dubious when I strode toward the checkout station with a baker’s dozen of books, most of them hardcover, in my arms. She added her own modest three novels to the stack, then proposed using the plastic bags provided by the library to transport our literary loot out to my car.

I scoffed.

“Nearly all of these are hardcover – they’ll tear holes right through those bags,” I told her, starting to gather the scanned books back into my arms.  The Southern Belle sighed, and because she is a fabulous friend, grabbed half the stack for herself so I didn’t actually have to carry them all.  I would have, though.  I’ve done it before.


To me, a library trip is only successful when it results in such a large haul of reading material that I can’t quite open the front door when I get home.  I’ve developed this habit from childhood; ever since I got my first library card in kindergarten, I would toddle up to the counter with a stack of books tucked under my chin, my fingers barely gripping the bottom of the pile as I propped it against my torso.  The librarians would lean down and peer at me as I tried to shove my heap up and over the counter for them to scan.  “Are you really going to read all those?” they would ask, half to me, half to my mother, who stood by nodding.

“Oh yes, she will,” my mother said.

That was in the first library I knew, the brick one with the lane of trees out front and Reading Riley, the brass turtle, on his pedestal just outside the door.  That was the library where, seized by one of those fevered obsessions that strikes third-graders, I checked out nearly every book available on lemurs and wrote a report.  For fun.  During the summer.

That library is gone now, torn down and the spot where it stood filled in with mountains of dirt.  The city promised a new library in that same spot, a bigger, better one.  A year, two at the most, they said.

It took five.

During those five years, the temporary library was crammed into a space that used to house an auto parts store.  Many of the books, including some of my favorites, were now in storage elsewhere.  I had to request a lot of things from other branches.  The librarians who had watched me grow up shook their heads whenever I asked about a beloved volume.  Probably in a box somewhere, they said.

Now we have a new library, with floor to ceiling windows and self checkout stations and conference rooms for readings and signings and book clubs.  There’s a job search area with resources for unemployed people, a teen area, a kids area.

I think the kids section might be the only one without computers.

Of course I miss the library of my childhood, the one with brick walls and a hushed atmosphere and a counter that allowed me to get to know the people who worked there.  But at school, what I’m really homesick for are those teetering, heavy stacks of pleasure and leisure reading.  Spring break means getting to pile books up to my chin, crash through the door, settle in, and devour half the stack in one afternoon.  And that, to me, is home.

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