A Note About This Feature: Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about. I have completed series on the topics of running, creativity, and food. Now, I’m being a bit random and discussing whatever strikes me at the time!
I come across quite a few blog posts, memoirs, and other stories that reflect back on happy childhoods, filled with innocence, fun, and fond memories. If I’m going to be honest, my childhood wasn’t really like that. I wasn’t a happy kid. I was generally lonely and out of sorts. I never really felt comfortable with my peers, was often trying to escape gloominess within my home, was all around a bit awkward and entirely lacked confidence in social settings. Now, lest you think I’m sharing this to drudge up sympathy, that’s not the case. Rather, I’m setting the scene for you, you see. Because, though this was the reality of my childhood, it is not the whole picture. And, it is not the whole picture, because I had the library.
My grandparents lived right behind the library and this was probably the single best thing that could have happened for me as a kid. From a very young age, I would head over to my grandparent’s home after school, make a quick stop to drop off my schoolbooks, and then march out the back door, hurry through the back yard, hop over the wire fence, and find myself in the parking lot of the local library. In I went, eager and full of anticipation for the time I would get to spend there. Forget Disneyland, the library was my happiest place on Earth.
My library had a kid’s area with a sunken floor that was carpeted with game boards. There was a giant hop scotch laid out, a checkerboard, even chess if you were that adventurous. My library had tables just perfectly made for leaning over, with my eyes intently flying past words on pages. My library had a magazine area with shelves of magazines covering news, politics, fashion, and entertainment all wrapped around a fireplace and a sofa. My library had an atrium that was lined with plants and shrubbery and let the bright Arizona sun shine in on you, without also bringing the heat of being outdoors. My library had shelves and shelves of books that offered me endless opportunities to feed my busy little head with images and stories and information that I devoured. And, my library had Cheryl, the librarian, who knew me by name and welcomed me as an honorary young librarian.
It was extraordinary.
I spent hours there. I read everything. I read fiction and non-fiction. I read all the books for kids, but when it became apparent that my reading level and comprehension were advancing rapidly, Cheryl recommended books for older kids, young adults, and adults. I read those, too. I got lost in pages of worlds, both real and imaginary, and used them as fuel for my creative fire. I wrote stories of my own – some which lived only in my head and some which manifested on paper. Not caring yet that I was a terrible artist, I drew pictures to illustrate the stories I read and wrote. I let my vivid imagination run wild with ideas of what the world would be like when I grew up. I could live in any of the amazing places I had read about (New York, London, California, Amsterdam). I went on grand adventures with Charlie Bucket, learned compassion with Shel Silverstein, survived grade school with Ramona Quimby, made sense of high school with the Wakefield twins, fantastized about love with Danielle Steele, and learned to think abstractly with Vonnegut at my side.
Whether Cheryl the librarian responded to my apparent loneliness, to my ever-growing precociousness, or both, I’m not sure, but she let me at the whole place like it was my own. When the return bin was full of books, she swung open the half door, letting me come behind the counter where I picked up one book after another, running it’s spine along the machine until it bumped up against the edge, in order to activate the security sensors. I loved the sound of this process. Sliiiiidddde, Thump. Sliiiiidddde, Thump. She let me wheel carts of books out to the floor and put them away on the shelves alongside her, lining up the spines straight and even as we went. She gave me old copies of magazines when their time was up. I carted them home where I lingered over the glossy images and studied how to write copy, imagining myself in the future as an editor, rushing to meet deadlines.
When summer came around, she invited me over to the annex where I helped her put together props and prizes for the youth summer reading program. She asked my not-so-sage advice on which games to play and what theme to feature each year. I prepped for the event and had such pride when other kids came to the program and enjoyed the fruits of our labor.
I always felt safe there. I always felt at home. I always felt a sense of belonging that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else. And I firmly believe that it is because of my experiences there, my discovery of the power of words on paper, that I developed my own creative streak. The joy I find in a good book, in transferring my thoughts to written words, in painting images in my mind, was born in my time at this library. As I’ve grown up, I still feel a sense of wonderment each time I’m in a library. It’s easy for me to connect to the fact that in a relatively small, enclosed space, there exists millions of lives and stories, centuries worth of history and an abundance of prospects for the future. I watched television and I played video games like other kids, but it was the library that taught me how to dream, how to imagine, and how to be at peace with myself (surrounded by books).
Last year, in the city that I live in now, my libraries were threatened. Apparently, there are plenty of folks out there who don’t see the value in directing tax dollars to such a ‘luxury’. Fortunately, Portlanders spoke up and voted to support our local library system. Through news stories and personal accounts, I know that libraries are starting to be seen by some as a relic. In the age of e-readers, Wi-Fi, and digital downloads, brick and mortar libraries with shelves and shelves of books may seem cumbersome. But, for this reader and writer, they are comfort, creativity, and contentment personified. They’re my oldest friends and my strongest inspiration.
A Sampling of Prior ‘Why Wednesday’ Posts:
Why I Run: Crows and Tortillas
Why I Run: The Pleasures of a Neighborhood Adventure
Why Creativity Counts: Series Recap
Why Creativity Counts: It Connects Us
Why I Eat . . . Strictly For Myself
A beautifully written post and a very timely topic for me! We are about to vote on adding a new library to one of the small towns in my area. I’m very much looking forward to casting my ‘yes’ vote in hopes that other young people will be able to enjoy the library as I did growing up.
Thank you, Katie! I very much hope that your ballot measure passes!
This was wonderful! A reminder of a childhood spent similarly in love with reading and savoring the companionship of books when peers were a source of pain, not joy. I feel as if in church when I enter a library. Thank goodness my town just built an amazing new library – 3 floors – one entire one devoted to children, with nooks and crannies and play houses and art areas. My 3 children are learning to love reading there.
That library sounds amazing! Your children are very fortunate. I hope they enjoy many wonderful hours there!
I love libraries. there is something about being in one with rows and rows of books that just makes me think I want to know everything there is to know.
the local library where I went to college was facing the same cuts. I joined a group of people who brought their kids( which was amazing because they made little picket posters in support of libraries ) and they protested the cuts. They ended up cutting library hours but at least no one lost their job.
That’s great about the lack of job loss – but sad about the cuts, still. I love that the kids made picket protest signs! Young activists are amazing!
It’s so funny that you wrote about this today, because yesterday I was just talking about my childhood library. I’m from a very small town, and when I was a child the library was in a little tiny building that had once been a bank. It had one window and was smelly and damp. But I loved it more than anything. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. My library card went through the wash so many times, I finally just memorized the number.
I live in Eugene now, and the city is proposing budget cuts to close two of the branches of the library and the main library on weekends. It’s very sad, and I hope everyone votes against it.
Thank you for sharing!
I hope they do, as well, Hannah! I will keep my (metaphorical) fingers crossed for you. Thank you so much for sharing your library story.
So glad you stopped by because I am really digging your blog! Look forward to following along.
Thank you so much! It was great to look through your blog, as well – great stuff!
You’re inspiring me to write my own version of Why Libraries are Worth Saving! Thank you, and great post!
Yay! That’s fantastic! Please feel free to share a link here when you’ve written it.
Thanks! Here it is: http://thiscuriousuniverse.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/books-are-my-friends/
Yes! Libraries are worth saving. I can’t imagine a better place to be and have fun than a library! Thanks so for sharing about your time there when you were a child. i am glad you had the perfect escape. xo
Thank you, Rebecca! I appreciate your comments and I love meeting other library-lovers!
Thank you, Rebecca! I appreciate your comment.
Love this love letter for libraries! I love libraries as well and feel they are one of the greatest inventions ever! We recently managed to get enough funding here in Seattle to open all libraries on Sundays again – that was a great moment! The libraries are always busy here and that is something I love seeing! P.S. I loved this post but I cringed when you mentioned not yet caring that you were a terrible artist. Art is another thing dear to my heart and I have to speak up – there is no such thing as a terrible artist! Art should never be compared and neither should artists. We are all artists is some way and it all matters, no matter what it looks like! Too many of us hold stories like that to be true… I feel so strongly they need to be weeded out and composted! So hug your inner artist, girl!
Maurie, thank you so very much for your comment. I appreciate that you pointed out my self-degradation as an artist! What you expressed about art is totally something that I would say to others, but sometimes I forget to apply that same openness and appreciate to myself. Thanks for the reminder to do so!
Libraries are definitely worth saving. My kids love to read but when I ask them what they want to read they say there isn’t anything they want to read, that is until I take them to the library and they have a chance to go through different sections and look through books. They always come out with something they probably wouldn’t have found on their e-reader.
I love that, Cindy! It is so much easier to find unexpected and random things with rows of books than scrolling or staring at an empty search bar on a device, I think.
I LOVED going to the library as a kid. It was definitely a haven of sorts. They are certainly worth saving!
Thanks! They absolutely are a haven of sorts! 🙂
As a public librarian, I appreciated your post! I think people believe libraries are obsolete because no one reads print books any more, and everyone has a computer & Internet access. They forget about all of the less privileged people in their towns who struggle with reading, don’t have e-readers, and don’t have computers or Internet at home. Those people need to feel connected to the modern world through email and Facebook, by being able to submit a government form or reply to a job or apartment ad, to read the newspaper or discover ideas in a book.
You’re absolutely right about those who don’t have access to technology as readily as others do. They so often get overlooked and deserve access to resources and tools just as the rest of us do.
P.S. I only read print/paper books still. I’ve been defiant about e-readers. 🙂
Wonderful post! It sounds like you could write a few stories about being a junior librarian.
I love libraries in general. Just the concept of them is amazing: borrow any book, cd, or dvd for free, just return it later? If a book or cd seems even remotely interesting I’ll check it out. If it turns out to be a dud, no big deal, it just gets returned sooner.
I miss riding my bike to the downtown library and then returning home with a backpack full of books. The library I bike to now is much smaller, but I still enjoy searching out new stuff.
The concept is amazing, right? I mean, where else can you do that??
[…] got the idea to write this post from reading this Move, Eat, Create blog post. It inspired me to tell my own story, after being so moved by this […]
I too loved (absolutely loved!) libraries as a child… I still do.
Thanks! I absolutely love all the responses from others who have fond feelings about libraries, too!
GREAT post! Sorry I missed it earlier. It just goes to show too, the difference an interested adult can make to a child. Love the pics. And I love books. And decent libraries. Thanks for this!
You’re welcome and thank you! I so very much agree with you – having even a single meaningful connection with an adult as a kid can make all the difference in the world.
A lovely read! I also love libraries, all kinds.
Thank you so much! Hooray for other library-lovers! 🙂
I love my library. It helps keep the cost of my book addiction somewhat reasonable.
Ha, ha! Mine, too!
[…] Last Week’s Entry: Why Libraries Are Worth Saving? […]
I don’t know what I’d do without my local public library!
Me, either! (clearly)
What a beautiful tribute to libraries! If it’s OK with you, I’d like to place a link to this post on our Facebook page (Strathcona County Library, Sherwood Park, Canada.) I’m very glad, but not totally surprised, to hear that Portlanders voted to continue supporting the Multnomah library system. Your city has always struck me as being very smart about these things.
Cheryl the Librarian is truly a credit to her profession, and I’m happy to say that I’ve met a few of her “sisters” in my past two years as a library communications person.
Again, a lovely post — thank you!
Thank you so very much. I’m so pleased that you liked this post and I would be honored if you shared it on your Facebook page. (and, thanks for the kudos to us Portlanders – we try our best!).
[…] Why Libraries Are Worth Saving […]
Love your sentiments here. Ramona Quimby was one of my favorites as a kid! I never went to the library much as a kid but take my two little ones regularly.
Thank you! And I’m sure your kids enjoy it!
Yes, yes, yes! As a girl who grew up in Portland, this post made me homesick 😦 I am glad libraries were saved. Some of them saved us 😉
They absolutely did! You should visit. I’m sure PDX libraries miss you! 🙂
[…] Why Wednesdays: Why Libraries Are Worth Saving : It’s been a while since I wrote this one, but I stand by every word. […]