Friday, April 15, 2011

National Library Week 2011

It's National Library Week (April 10-16) and I almost missed it again this year.  So on this next-to-last day of the national celebration of libraries, I want to add my own brief thoughts about my appreciation for our country's public library system.

The little town I grew up in had what was basically a little one-room library that housed, by my estimation, approximately 3,000 books.  Perhaps 25% of those books were in the children's section of the library and the rest of them were shelved in the adult section.  Some of my earliest memories of feeling "independent" pertain to hopping on my bicycle and riding the three miles to that little library where an elderly librarian always greeted me with a tight little smile.  This lady had to be won over, and that did not come quickly or easily.  Eventually, though, she began to consider me one of her "regulars" and she took an interest in what I was reading, as opposed to what I should be reading.

She made sure that I had pretty much exhausted everything on the shelves that she considered age-appropriate (and those were some pretty rigid standards in the 1950s, believe me).  Then she surprised me by saying that, if I would bring a note from home giving her the authority, she would enlist me on a reading program of her own design.  From the day I brought her that note, that librarian opened up a whole new world to me.  Suddenly, I was delving into the classics and a whole lot of relatively current adult fiction.  She did shelter me by refusing some of my choices, but she always found a substitute that made sense in the context of what I was asking to read.  All that summer, and the two that followed (ages 10-12 for me), she was my guide.

That woman, in that tiny, underfunded library, taught me to love reading.  She gave me a gift that has lasted a lifetime, one that has given me more pleasure and contentment than any gift I have received since.

I am, of course, not alone.  Here is an example of what libraries can mean to a kid, in this case, award winning children's author Virginia Hamilton who grew up in little Yellow Springs, Ohio.  Here her husband speaks of how important a public library was to his wife when she was growing up there.



  1. That's a great story! When I was a kid my mom and I volunteered at our little library a lot. I didn't like the idea of having to "work" but I did love being at the library! I loved exploring the shelves to see what I could find. I was even able to get most of the old Doctor Dolittle books from the book sale one time and I read them several times growing up!

    It kind of makes me sad to look at our library and see how it is going to self checkout and self service. Librarians are a dying breed and its really a terrible loss. The ladies that work in our library are very nice, but they just work there. They don't have a heart for it like the librarians you and I grew up with.

    So I guess it's up to me to make sure my kids grow up loving books! I'm doing my best and I think I'm succeeding! I still do love our library despite it's flaws. I'll keep taking my kids there every chance I get!

  2. I grew up on military bases. The way the library works on base is you can check books out with your ID card. But you don't get your own ID card until you are ten. Hence, when I wanted books, my mom had to go with me to check them out for me. After a few times of this hassle, my mom talked to the librarians, who saw I was checking out 13 books at a time, and they agreed I could take my mom's card and check books out myself. I would get 10-13 books every time, then walk home with my treasures and plop down onto the couch. I still get that many books at a shot. I love my library.

  3. Class Factotum and I had similar experiences. Those base libraries were choice! I was in there so much that the head librarian asked me one day if I would help out with the summer reading program. I was so thrilled.

  4. Oh Bybee! Did you have the summer reading program where you stuck a green section to the caterpillar's body for every book you read? I loved that one because I filled my caterpillar almost immediately.

  5. Andy,

    Libraries are almost unrecognizable today when compared to what most of us grew up with. Librarians (feel free to correct me, librarians) are more information managers now than they are in librarians in the sense that most of us think of librarians. I suppose that's both a good and a bad thing, but it surely has changed the experience for today's children. I suppose, though, that it's all a matter of perspective and that today's kids are building some fond memories of their own about their library experiences.

  6. Factotum/Susan, those military base libraries sound wonderful. I was not career-military so I never experienced them but, from the great memories you both have of them, it sounds as if they were doing the job.