In praise of Libraries

Some of my first memories are libraries. It was one of the first places I could be free of parental supervision. We got our library cards before we were 5. I was reading at 3 and my mother who at the time was a stay at home mom but an ex 1st grade teacher was probably desperate after we ran through all the books at home. (And we had a lot of books) We got read to in the afternoon before a nap by mom and before bed at night by dad.

Some of my few memories of being safe from dad’s temper was in his arms being read to while he did all the voices and before he did games like “Shoe a Little Mare” or “Giddy up Napoleon, it looks like rain” and reduced my brother and I to giggling puddles.

We were allowed to take 10 books out at a time which lasted about a week before mom would take us again. I know in first grade I remember mom taking me after a doctor’s appt as a bribe and a lady leaned over to my mom and pointed at her daughter and said she had the mumps and guess who got the mumps a week later? Twice, once on each side a week a part, it was horrible. Books got really important really quick because then my little brother got the measles and then I got the chicken pox and then my brother got the chicken pox so bad they had to tape his eyes shut. I didn’t get the measles until 12th grade and he never got the mumps that I know of but we got most of the childhood diseases done in one span. This was in 1961 right about when the first polio vaccine was released. The others didn’t exist yet.

I remember when I was 10 and we moved to Glendale and I had run out of children’s books that didn’t bore me to tears. I hated girly books except for Nancy Drew and I loved boy’s books but like Danny Dunn and the Mad Scientist’s Club books. (Loved that book to death) So mom somehow talked them into letting me have an adult card. Oh boy! The first adult book I wanted was Don Quixote and the librarian had a fit and called my mom to the desk wanting to know if it was alright. I bet she wished she hadn’t. Mom told her I could read anything I wanted and that I probably wouldn’t understand the parts that the librarian disproved of children reading. And I didn’t, at least the parts about Dulcinea’s line of work but I had overheard somewhere it was a good story and I loved it. The next book was a biography of Mary Queen of Scots and she wasn’t happy about that one either but she couldn’t do a damn thing about it. I think she was happier when I started to read my way through all the fairy tales and stories about the Fae and things like Scottish bogles which quite frankly gave me nightmares for a while, she should have been more worried about reading things like the original Grimm tales that she was. I have a feeling the librarian had never read them.

Another librarian was a Scot at a different branch and would lead me to different books she thought I would like, she was an aider and abetter of the first water. She didn’t care what I read as long as I was reading. The downside of the reading in the adult section was that I could never enter the summer reading competition because I didn’t read approved children’s books and I think it was partly because they thought I’d win every time. I just read too fast even with Summer School and other activities.

The library let me travel to places I had never been and times that were long past. It took me safe places when home wasn’t. It gave me things to think about and things to talk about, (usually only to adults) other kids thought the shit I read was weird.

When I was in 8th grade I got in trouble at school because math was not my thing and they kept putting me in advanced classes because I was advanced in everything else, so therefore I should be good at math. NOT! Anyway I got tired of being yelled at for getting Ds and I forged my dad’s signature on my report card. I thought I had done a pretty good job but I guess not because I got called into the school counselor’s office who was a friend of my dad who used to teach at the elementary school next door. So busted but it had a good outcome once I explained the problem since no one had bothered to ask me before. He made me a deal, he’d lower the math level if I would work harder in other things. So I told him I wanted to take Latin and he said not until 9th grade and offered me the library science class for 8th grade. O gee what kind of deal was that? I jumped at it and he never told my parents about my life of crime attempt.

I had been put through the ringer when I moved to Glendale schools from the Valley. They spent 2 weeks pulling me out of my class room and giving me various IQ tests. I have no idea why they thought they had to do that but it ended with them telling me what they thought it was and that I wasn’t working up to my potential. Well duh. They were boring me to tears. They were just teaching the water cycle in the 5th grade and my old school did that in 1st grade and is now incidentally a science center. I’d gotten my own microscope for Christmas when I was 6. Stop boring me!

Anyway, I loved taking Library Science, we got to read anything we wanted in the school library. We had to read something from every section of the Dewey Decimal System. Oh break my heart, tell me to read more? I read more fairy tales from around the world. I discovered Heinlein’s young adult stuff. I read the Hobbit for the first time and in short went right down the sci fi/fantasy rabbit hole and never looked back. I learned how to mend books with the really nasty orange library glue, I learned to make bulletin boards for holidays (loved that). I learned how to do all the lending/check out and in functions and to update the card catalogue. (Yeah, yet another archaic skill) I learned how to research and find the right book for people.

The teacher/librarian, Mrs Castlen was a crack up. She never got my name right until the end of the year. I was Rosemary, Mary Anne, Mary Ellen anything but Mary Beth. I have no idea if it was on purpose but it’s funny now.

When I got out of college and got a real job I went to bookstores more than I went to the library and when Amazon was invented I was one of the first ordering books that I couldn’t get any other way and Amazon UK was another rabbit hole when Amazon US didn’t have what I wanted.

But about 10 years ago I got laid off from my job for 5 years and because I’m older it took a long time to get a new one and back to the library I went. Thank heavens I had a laptop, I could go and use their internet and upload all the resumes I needed to. I could get books, both physical and ebooks since buying them was no longer an option, we could take out movies and tv series we couldn’t see after the cable had to go. Sometimes I went just so I wouldn’t be alone in the house, which for a rather severe introvert is saying a lot. When I wrote my books I could go upload them to the publisher. And an added perk is that we live in a neighborhood that is split between being very ethnic and across the street it’s very affluent and a lot of famous actors use the library and you’d look up and they would be picking up a book with their kids looking like the rest of harried moms and dads. You could listen to tutoring sessions or literacy sessions for people from other countries that had never learned to read or just not in English and hear how excited they got when they succeeded. There were lonely older people who would just sit and read the newspapers and occasionally look around. There were older people taking computer classes to learn new skills and talk to their grandchildren. There was story time in English and in Spanish for the little ones.

We need Libraries, they are so much more than a house for books, they are cathedrals of learning and doorways of wonder.