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.


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