The library is free. I learned that early on when Mother explained that “public” meant “free,” so we could afford it. The library that liberated me as a child makes me free to sculpt my world today.
Back in 1950, I was a six-year-old polio survivor who wasn’t worldly wise enough to be grateful for the ability to walk. My mother, the late Thelma Groves, never learned to drive, so my older sister and I walked all over Des Moines, Iowa with her. My favorite walk from the Eastside was going west on Locust Street, across the Des Moines River bridge to the salmon pink limestone library.
As I grew older, it became apparent why Mother’s walks to the library were so important to her. Mother’s father was intelligent, but illiterate, and she, herself, had but a tenth-grade education. My own father only made it through elementary school, before having to work to help his family. Regardless that no one on either side of my family had gone to college, Mother was insightful in recognizing and encouraging my love for learning and for books.
She never minded our weekly visits when I’d return my armload of books and check out another armload. From the walk, at bedtime, I’d cry with aching legs.
Quickly I forgot the pain, though, on my next trip to the library. The nice librarian in the children’s section stamped my yellow, frayed library card with red ink that read: “Good for Adult Use.” I felt so proud. Since I’d scoured nearly all of the literature on the lower level that had been deemed appropriate for my age, I was ready to both figuratively and literally “climb” the stairs to greater challenges. Other peoples and lands around the globe were remote; yet, close…within reach.
Now, I could dream big. Mother would say, “It doesn’t cost any more than dreaming small.” My library experiences with the card index files, newspapers, magazines, and books took me from big dreams to gargantuan life opportunities.
As a little girl, I never thought I’d ever get much farther than across the street, except in my dreams. I dropped out of high school at age 16 to marry my military sweetheart. Thanks to my early foundation at the Public Library of Des Moines and so many other libraries throughout my travels and over the years, I eventually saw my dream come true in degrees…college degrees.
I graduated from Des Moines Area Community College and later from Drake University where I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and English in 1985 and a Master’s Degree in English in 1990. Since then, I’ve taught English at Paradise Valley Community College and Scottsdale Community College in Arizona.
Besides reading the works of authors, I’ve become one myself, with numerous freelance articles, fiction and non-fiction, published nationally. Some of the places I used to only read about, I have been able to personally visit: Israel, France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Russia, Sweden, and Estonia.
Sometimes I pinch myself.
How has the library changed my life? The library inspires me to keep dreaming. After my husband of 43 years died, I moved from Fountain Hills, Arizona to the little Dutch city of Pella, Iowa; one of the selling points was that I’d be one block from the “public” library and a short walk to Central College’s Geisler Library.
Proudly, I’m a library card-carrying patron, and these days, libraries include more than just books and a friendly librarian. Computers set where manual typewriters once clicked away. When I’m researching anything from the Lost Tribes of Israel to my own family genealogy, I have electronic access to millions of books and an online chat for assistance. I’m lead down the road to specialized databases, like Heritage Quest and voila--instant information.
I don’t know where this walk will lead me, but I do know that the library has changed my life forever. I’m still dreaming BIG. Every time I enter the doors of my library, I open my mind…and I am free.