The library I grew up with, a literal 500 steps from my house in Millbury, Massachusetts, was a completely ordinary small town library. And for the record, I grew up saying “liBERRY.” A beautiful brick building, built originally in 1864, ironically with a grant from Andrew Carnegie. It had the old school dewy decimal system, the old grouchy librarian, and the silence of a tomb. Why wouldn’t small children of all ages love to spend their Saturdays tip toeing around the musty smelling wooden shelves? Why?
To be honest, it took me many years to appreciate the institution of the library. ( I think that I did not consider myself “smart” enough to be a library person. Defn: Library Person: Someone smart enough to find a book based on the Dewy Decimal system). I can tell you that I moved far away from my home town before my appreciation kicked in. And outside of studying in my college library, my devotion did not start there either. Well, maybe a little with the micro-fiche projector. That was pretty cool. No, actually my favorite memory at the Evangel College Library had nothing to do with books. And I’ll digress here. I hate bras. And one night, when studying with my roommates, I just decided to spice up the serious studies with an inconsipicuous bra removal. Come on. Everyone does this. Right?
Then there were the years of the library fines. Is there more to say? If I could’ve gotten a tax break for every fine, we could’ve bought a house earlier. I think the fine was really the thing that almost had me turn my back on the Library all together. There’s a little smudge of shame that still follows me when I think of all the books I returned late, returned with the sleeve missing, coffee stains, dog chewed, or the worst, the ones I never returned. It’s always a treat to land in a different STATE, open a box to unpack and see that little sticker on the front of your book. Do you think that is a traceable sticker?
When we moved to Denver, CO in 2000, I spent about 3 months looking for a job. When I wasn’t sending off resume’s and working my job searching spreadsheet, I spent my time driving into downtown Denver. I knew that I would end up working downtown, so I wanted to get a head start on learning the roads, routes, and cafe’s. I decided to start every venture into downtown at the Denver Public Library. Settled right near city park, and across from the Art Museum of Denver, nestled onto one giant city block, was the amazing and beautiful Denver Public Library. This is where my library love started. Not only could I find my way there, but somehow being there, checking out books, I suddenly felt part of the community. I was becoming a Denver citizen. Thank you LibERRY.
And more of the bright side….the last 10 years of committed library love. I had enough sense to teach my girls about the library early. First of all, I forced my mouth to say libRARY, instead of libERRY. For my American consumer little ones, the indoctrination wasn’t quick, or easy. I remember many days where the drive to the library was filled with whining and complaining, “Why can’t we just go to the bookstore? I want my OWN book!” Grrr. I would calmly and kindly say things like, “It doesn’t make sense to buy every book we want to read, it allows us to check out many different varieties!”
And then, if that didn’t work, “There’s a cafe! How about we get a hot chocolate while we look at our books!” Shazam! I think it’s my fault, but my girls were born with a genetic propensity for all things Cafe. It solves all of life’s big problems. Bad trip to the dentist? A smoothie will do. Rough day at school? Decaf almond milk vanilla latte is just the thing. Stupid mean girl at school? Hello Frappucinno. Don’t judge me-I’m not alone, I see you on Facebook. If you aren’t protesting the December cup, you’re filling it up. Admit it. I digress…
When we traded mountains for hills, we also traded Denver for Pittsburgh. And it follows that we also had to find our center-the public library system in Pittsburgh. No…you are right, we don’t live in the metropolis of Pittsburgh. We live in a once thriving, now depressing used-to-be steel town. No offense, New Brighton, but you are a little depressing. I’m learning to love you. Anyhow-the Carnegie Main Library in Oakland is our new favorite stop in Pittsburgh. Surrounded by museums, medical universities, restaurants, and parks. We were particularly struck by the carving on the front, stating “FREE TO THE PEOPLE.” There are so few buildings in our world that say this on the front, that proclaim it so boldly as to carve it into stone above giant pillars. The library is a great equalizer. Little children, college students, moms, dads, professors, homeless people, anyone, ANYONE is welcome at the library! It is free of judgement, blind to income, not trying to impress you, sell you, save you, or change you. It’s so good people. So whether you say liBERRY or library, if you haven’t been to your local place of free books and kind faces, I encourage you to go.