A library can be a place of escape for anyone, allowing readers to travel to places and see things they never dreamed they’d experience. While I believe that to be true of libraries everywhere, it may be even more true for those who grow up in a rural area or small town like I did.
When you don’t have a stop light in your town, it’s hard to imagine the traffic jams of a big city, and when the dime store is the major business attraction where you live, it’s hard to picture a department store on Fifth Avenue. But the books that the library supplied evened the playing field, making it so a small town kid in Illinois could have the same reading experiences as a child in a major metropolitan area.
This is National Library Week, which got me to thinking about my library experiences. The most memorable are from growing up, because, full disclosure, I am no longer a frequent visitor to the library. That’s the trend for a lot of us, I assume, but the library remains a great destination for anyone, and children most of all.
The public library in my town was located on the second story of a building downtown. If my memory serves correct, you could pay your water bill downstairs or walk to the second floor to enjoy the library. There was something about the climbing of those stairs that made entry into the library seem like a major destination, like you had reached a summit.
Once inside, I remember a distinctive smell. I guess it was of both the books and the wooden shelves and tables, but to a youngster it seemed, in some ways, exotic; although it would be years before I’d fully understand the word. To be honest, the escapist feeling wasn’t limited to the reading. The library was one place where your parents felt safe dropping you off, so the feeling of freedom came from more than just the words on the pages.
As I got older, the library at school became more and more important, and influenced my career in some ways. In high school, I was mesmerized by the collection of newspapers on hand. Those who are my age and older no doubt remember the sticks the papers would hang on, separated section by section and hanging on a rack like some sort of journalistic meat on a spit. I devoured those papers daily, reading the articles from the big-time reporters in Chicago and dreaming of one day doing the same thing for a living.
Everything in the library wasn’t so serious, however. After all, I was still a kid, and the so-called sticks that held the papers made for a nice sword for an occasional duel with a friend. And that provoked another staple of the library, an authoritative “shoosh” to remind everyone that it was a place of learning and not of sword fighting.
With so much interest in the library, I guess it wasn’t a surprise that I liked the librarian. She seemed hip and fun and was always quick to suggest a book, explain one or even discuss a band. On top of that, she was the gate keeper to all the good stuff in that room, which seemed pretty cool in its own right.
All these years later, I don’t think that has changed. Though the conduits of reading have advanced with the electronic age, the library is still a place to escape and a place to dream. And like a great book you’ve read many times before, it’s a great place to remember.
Email Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.