The Power of the Library

I love books.  I love to read books, to smell books, to touch books and I love talking about books.  There has been no time in my life that I have not been surrounded by books.  Which means there has been no time in my life when the whole world has not been available to me.  Never have I been unable to travel to an African village, or an Amish community, or a planet past the stars.  So the most powerful place in the world, in my opinion, is a library with its stacks and stacks of portals into other worlds.

Growing up in a tiny agricultural community in the middle of a wheat field, the public library was one of the two cultural oases available to me.  (I’m sure most folks would pick other places to classify as a cultural oasis, such as the local tavern, but not me.)  My mom would take my sister and I to the library every two weeks and we would haul home colorful rectangles promising to show us the world.

As a voracious reader, one summer I decided I would read every book in the children’s section.  Every single one of them.  I remember sitting on the floor in front of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and emptying the whole section into my bag.

In reality, I didn’t read the whole children’s section.  The truth is, I got bored with “little kid” books and moved to the grown-up “mystery” section.  But I still remember the feel of the carpet on my bare skin as I pulled book after book from the shelf to read.  It felt like freedom.

Years later, I moved to an even small community which meant the library came to me via a book-mobile.  No longer was I able to sit down on the carpet and plan where in the world I was going to travel next.  Instead I taught myself to “listen to the books”.  In other words, I would just let the colors and fonts “speak” to me and randomly select books to read.

In the late 1990s I read what would become one of my favorite books, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.  Week after week I went to the shelf where I hoped to find Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits only to find it was still missing.  My finger would trace the spines and week after week it was Alvarez there instead of Allende.  It seemed to speak to me like the sweet boy who asks you to the dance because he knows you will be sitting at home otherwise. But like some “pity dates” a magic transpired.  Alvarez’s telling of the Mirabal sisters rattled about my head for several years until I finally talked my department into teaching it.

I like to think of books at night.  The lights are dimmed and the people gone.  And slowly, one at a time, the characters pull their heads out of the covers, checking for humans.  And if all is clear, they come out.  Dressed in their regalia or rags or hairy coats, each character runs about, stretching and playing, until the sunlight creeps over the horizon and they all must go back to their pages, to wait.  To wait and hope for gentle hands and a mind hungry to meet them.

And the library, a public place for all the citizens regardless of financial and social status in this nation, lets anyone who enters its doors find this magic for themselves, for free.  Giving such a gift is a powerful thing indeed.

What book transported you?  What about it did you love?  What surprised you?

8 thoughts on “The Power of the Library

  1. I have fond memories of the bookmobile from my childhood and libraries. Such wondrous places. My favorite of all is college libraries. The Texas A&M library had the most fantastic micro fiche collection of newspapers and magazines. I could slip back in time and read about WWII or the civil war. Great post as always!

  2. The Bridge to Terabithia transported me. I read adult novels (primarily horror) from a very young age, but someone gave me a copy of that book and I was thus “forced” to read it.

    I wish I could remember who gave me that give, but I remain grateful a couple of decades later. I’ve had to sell most my books over the years, but that book is one that’s traveled across the Pacific and back with me . . . twice.

  3. I’ve just read the entire Anne of Green Gables series and I love them. They’ve reminded me what to aspire to – books that truly live beyond the life span of their author and continue to find homes in the souls of each generation.

  4. I will always have a great fondness for the book that got me truly hooked on reading – Ernest Thompson Seton’s “Lives of the Hunted”. I’m not sure if it was meant as a book for young readers, but it certainly spoke to my heart.

  5. I was fortunate in my small Dalton-killing town to live two blocks from the public library. The summer between second and third grade I got to walk there by myself and take home two books every day. It helped me to become the reader I have been ever since.

    God bless the public library system. I think it so very important for us all to help preserve it in whatever ways we can.

    I can’t actually name one book that changed my life so much as ALL OF THEM having brought me so many good things in my life, and continuing to do so.

    Thanks So Much Kristina, for this happy reminder of how enriching and how very important our libraries are.

  6. As with anything else, books have benefits and drawbacks. As a child, I grew up in an disfunctional, unhappy family. As a child, I took refuge in the public library, and went through experiences such as you describe. However, a person can become addicted to books (as they can become addicted to any other pursuit or activity), so it took me a long time to broaden my skills and interests so I could cope with life in ways besides just retreating into a book.

    It is excellent to teach children to read and to develop skills in reading and a love of reading, but it is (in my opinion) if this is balanced out by developing other interests and skills, such as engaging in physical activity, such as being able to relate to other people in groups and social activities, and so on. Cultivate reading and books; don’t worship it or overemphasize it.

  7. It’s a library bus for us too – and I love to board it.
    Have always loved libraries and always will. They’re a mark of a civilized society.
    Favourites? They’re here but I’ll single out A Time Of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor – his teenage trek across 1933 Europe is a challenging tour of European culture, behaviour and history.

  8. Another great post. This post was made all the better for me as I work in a library here in Melbourne, Australia. Nice to know my job helps people to experience so much enjoyment.

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