Thursday, February 20, 2014


I was a bibliophile before I knew there was such a word.

I don't have to own books because I love libraries almost as much as the books they house.

As a youngster in Livermore, California I was allowed to walk to the imposing old brick library by myself. 

I didn't climb the grand steps up to the second floor adult entrance, but entered by the small door on the ground floor to the children's room. My first library card was the size of a credit card, and had a little metal plate with the four raised digits of my user number.  The librarian had a hand cranked machine that imprinted my number on the borrower card, after which I would then press my thumb to the number, still damp with ink. The ritual was part of the fun.

I visited the real and fantasy worlds found on its shelves until adolescence. Then I crept up the stairs to the adult section, waiting for some grown-up to  disapprovingly hiss at me to go back downstairs. They never did. 

The library sat in the center of a city block. I enjoyed the grounds nearly as much as I did the stacks.  As a child I always lingered for a minute at the fountain in front and watched the koi glide around. Gravel walks circled the building, shaded by large oaks. As a teen, my first boyfriend and I spent hours on the benches under the trees--talking instead of studying. 

I was sorry when they built a new library closer to home and Mother insisted I use it.  It didn't smell right, and it was much too bright. 

When we moved to Whidbey Island in Washington State I had to take a ferry, then a bus, to borrow books from the Everett library.  I remember the thrill of entering the library after several months without access. Eventually I had to forsake its luxury for the more practical bookmobile that came to the island. But I missed the hush of the reading room and the tingle I felt when surrounded by hundreds of books.

In college Mizzou's (University of Missouri, Columbia) stacks were open.  I found many books that had been on the shelves since they were bestsellers in the late 1800's. I used them for a history project--the bestsellers up to 1910.  I toted home armloads of original musty first editions like The Virginian (1903), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1905) and Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1909).

In San Francisco I enjoyed the old Civic Center library, a Carnegie grantee, which opened in 1888. Grand stone steps led to the brass and glass doors. I didn't get to spend enough time there.

Over the twenty six years we lived in Denver, Colorado I checked out sheet music, did research on microfilm and microfiche, and listened to LPs in the  main library. Shortly before we moved they built a massive, elegant addition. There were study nooks, and comfy upholstered reading chairs.  I still use their extensive electronic collection.

Winston Salem main library
I knew I wouldn't have access to the same resources in our small rural NC community. But it was a shock to walk into a "library" that was smaller than my house. Fortunately, they've grown.

  I got a card to the Forsyth library system and enjoy its collection too. 

Electronic borrowing makes thousands of books available from my reading chair, but I miss the quiet walk down the narrow canyons lined with books waiting to be opened. The color of the spine may catch my eye and lead me to a new discovery. Or browsing to the left and right of the book I've specifically hunted down, I find an unexpectedly good read. 

wikipedia creative commons
I visited the Library of Congress last year. I craned my neck to look over the railing to the closed reading room. It reminded me more of a church than a library. I imagine myself sitting there blissfully turning pages of hard-to-find books in a bibliophile's dream-come-true.

Tell me about your first library, what did you love about it? 

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