Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein: 'In many ways, libraries have been my salvation'

"In many in many ways, libraries have been my salvation, and really still continue to be."

The first library that I actually remember making use of was the Walnut Street Library in Harrisburg, which is part of the Dauphin County Library System. And we moved to Harrisburg when I was not quite nine years old. And I started school there in the Harrisburg School District, and I used to take art lessons in this building that was around the block from the library.

And so they would drop me off at 9:00 in the morning and then I would get picked up at about noon. And so when I finished my lesson, I would go over to the library and that is where I would hang out for the next couple of hours. And it was this big old stone building. I don't know how old it was, early but it was certainly 20th century, if not older.

And I just felt so at home there. The children's section was in the basement. And in those days, there really wasn't much division among the children's books apart from the fact that they were separate from the adult books. So, I just kind of read my way through the library. I was not particularly happy in school in those days, and I....you'll hear this story for many kids who felt like they were a little bit of an outsider...they escaped in books.

And about the same time, I also, of course, formed a good friendship with our school librarian who was discarding a bunch of really, really ancient books from the school library, and so I picked them all up, and I ate them up.

And when I went to college...I went to Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, and one of the first things I did when I moved in as an undergraduate, was, I went and got myself a public library card, and that's the first library I can remember that had a separate teen section, and they actually had a fantastic collection. So, they had series that I had only ever thought there was one book in and then all the sudden it would turn out that there were 12. The one that comes to mind is Arthur Ransome, and who is the author of "Swallows and Amazons"  ...they also had all...Allen Garner's books and he was one of my favorite authors, from the time I was about, well before I could read because my mother and father had read all these books aloud to us.

And we used to live in the same area where they took place, in the South Manchester area of England, because my father was working there for a couple of years.

My sort of touch stone  story for the New Haven Public Library is that ...I was taking a very advanced French class...actually it wasn't that advanced, it was like Intermediate French, but we were reading "La Pest" by Camus in French, and it was the hardest thing that any of us had ever read, so all the English copies were on hold, on closed reserve, in the Yale Library, because all the French classes were trying to get ahold of this book. You could only sit there in the reserve section and read it, so I went to the New Haven Public Library which was literally two blocks away from the Yale Library, and there were copies of this book on the shelves in English...nobody had taken them out, and so I felt like, "Wow,this is my special private place." These other students are losing out by not using the public library.

So, in many in many ways, libraries have been my salvation, and really still continue to be. My library use became different, because I was no longer really using it for my own research, I was using it for my children. They're definitely still my number one resource, because I always start with books when I'm doing research.

Library budgets cut? Well...it's worse in the UK. They've been closing them down. I actually find it really pretty terrible. As I say, they're my first preference. Mobile libraries, I live in a very rural area and some people are actually...have a very hard time traveling...and so a lot of mobile libraries have been cut. It depends on the Council...|[sighs] ...I'm not very savvy on what's going on, but I feel that it's a great loss. And really is not being given enough attention to how important it is.

You know, I would never say anything but that I'm against banning of books. And I do feel that children...child readers, and their gatekeepers, be they librarians or parents, are capable of making their own decisions about what's good for children to read, and what they're capable of taking in. And it just seems ...it's not going to really help anyone to slap labels on things and say that you can't read them. Most of my own, if they're challenged, are challenged for having bad language. And again, this just seems like a really kind of spurious thing to be banning books for. The recent furor over Anne Frank and her discovery of her own body, in the unedited...the full length version...You know, it's ...it doesn't seem like the kind of decision that should be a blanket decision. 

I think that readers are really quite capable of drawing their own conclusions. 

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Library Name: 

Walnut Street Library in Harrisburg, Pa.