*This article was previously published in the Superior Telegram, Superior,Wisconsin.
I grew up in a typical mid-century household, on a boulevard dotted avenue lined with the elm trees. As a young child, there were only two places beyond the reach of my mother’s voice calling me home that I was allowed to go on my own — the neighborhood park and the, public Library, the first Carnegie library in the State of Wisconsin.
Both of the childhood haunts loom large in my memories. Both played a role in teaching me life lessons, one social and one academic. But the library was love at first sight for me. The relationship has endured more than 50 years, despite both of us having moved to new locations.
My mother was an avid reader and passed the love of books on to her children. At an early age, I was subscribed to Dr. Seuss’s series of books, I Can Read By Myself. I took to reading like a bookworm to friable pages.
My older brother was a fan of comics so it wasn’t long before I was reading Archie, Superman, Batman and many more. Thanks to his extensive and eclectic reading stash, my funny bone was fed on the satire of MAD Magazine, and my sense of the macabre developed with Tales from the Crypt.
The first chapter book I read was a Nancy Drew mystery belonging to my sister. When I closed the cover on the last one of her small collection, wanting to read more, she took me to get my first library card. I was mesmerized by the stacks and stacks of books, all in one place, all there for the borrowing.
The public library opened the door to curating my own book list. I started with the mysteries I loved, moving on from Nancy Drew to classics by Daphne du Maurier, Agatha Christie and Victoria Holt, along with more modern selections by Mary Higgins Clark, Dick Francis and Tony Hillerman.
From there, it became whatever struck my fancy. I’ll never forget when I asked the librarian why I couldn’t find a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. “Because it’s not a children’s book,” I was told. “It’s shelved upstairs.”
I was not yet old enough to hold a card for the main library, housed above the cozy little children’s room with tiny tables and chairs, and a bubbling aquarium populated by goldfish and guppies. The possibility that I would not be able to read the book crushed me.
I was a familiar face at the library, carrying home as many books as my arms would hold on any one trip with never a concern I wouldn’t finish reading them before they were due back. The librarian considered for a moment, then jotted a note for me to give to her coworker at the main desk upstairs. I felt so very grown up toting that book home under my arm.
After my age caught up to my taste in literature and I became a regular on the main floor, my first blush of love for the library grew more intimate. I delighted in discovering out-of-the way nooks and crannies where I could lose myself on purpose. There was a spot on the mezzanine where, at a certain time of day, the sun would angle through a small, high window casting a slant of light across the floor at the back of the stacks; there I sat, mostly undisturbed, with the bright, warm sunlight falling across the pages of the book I was reading.
Sometime after my parents moved outside the city with me in tow, my familiar, beloved library moved into a more modern, barrier free facility. I miss that magnificent old Carnegie library where I spent so many of my formative years. The current location has been no less a treasure trove of adventure and education for generations of younger patrons.
But a library is about more than that. More than the place it occupies in the community, all the services it offers, even the stories it holds, a library is also about the stories it tells. I never had a hint that first day I held my sister’s hand and climbed the wide steps of the old library building that I’d one day be an author.
Some people believe that with internet and e-books, libraries are becoming absolete—don’t believe it. Libraries are as vital to communities now as they ever were, and will remain relevant long into the future as cornerstones of the community where are all welcome. Libraries ensure that new generations of budding scientists, doctors, historians, educators, leaders, artists and writers will have the opportunity to discover their futures while lost among the stacks.