Eileen from Stow, Massachusetts

I grew up in rural Minnesota in the 1950s*before books were abundantly available as they are today. By the summer of 1960, I had read all of my mother*s books and everything in our small school library. I was a ten-year-old bookworm facing the prospect of summer with nothing new to read.
 
My schoolteacher mother heard that the St. Paul State Library had a free mail-order system for sending books to people who lived outside the metropolitan area. We first tried it out that summer.
 
I would write a letter of request to the state library and a week or two later a big package of books would arrive in the mail, addressed to Miss Eileen Kramer. I can still remember the sound of the mailman tooting his horn twice and twice again, which meant there was a package too big to fit in the mailbox at the end of the driveway. I would run down the driveway, barely remembering to greet the mailman, and happily chug the package up the hill to the house.
 
A voracious reader herself, my mother also took advantage of the program. She had her own requests and books, separate from mine, a detail I didn*t appreciate so much at the time. I realize now that she had no concern or need to censor my requests, trusting the librarians* judgment.
 
Buying books online doesn*t begin to match the thrill I experienced upon receiving a shipment of library books. Yes, amazon.com has faster delivery (the instant gratification we are willing to pay for) and you can get any book under the sun (music too). But what*s missing, what makes it pale in comparison, is the personal touch, the cordial letter accompanying the library books, and the interest the librarians took in my self-directed summer reading program.
 
Printed on St. Paul State Library letterhead, one of the librarians would write a courteous letter describing the contents of the package and usually suggesting other books to borrow:
 
Dear Miss Kramer,
 
Per your request, enclosed please find the books by author Pearl Buck. I notice from your circulation card that with this shipment you will have read all of Pearl Buck. I am enclosing another book that I believe you will enjoy by author Vern Sneider, Teahouse of the August Moon.
 
In two weeks, I will send you another book in this genre by author James Michener, Hawaii.
 
Sincerely yours,
Miss Gladys Mathews
St. Paul State Library
 
Each summer my reading had a theme (sometimes suggested by my mother). I began with the Far East in 1960, followed by British war novels two summers in a row (I still can*t get enough of those), the American West in 1963, what we called Hardship Stories (Wallace Stegner and John Steinbeck), historical novels (Thomas B. Costain), and so on through high school, until I went away to college.
 
The encouragement and interest shown by the state librarians (none of whom I ever met in person) had a profound effect on the quality of my life and education.
 
Half a century later, in the Internet age, libraries are networked and connected by technology. Requests can be made online and books are efficiently shared among many different branches of the library system. What has not changed is the competence and dedication shown by librarians*they remain the caretakers of knowledge.
 
Today, I use the library not only to borrow books but for many other life-enhancing activities. Three years ago I started a networking group for people interested in the publishing field. We meet bimonthly upstairs in the library, again with the support of a librarian who gives me the key so we don*t have to leave when the library closes. The publishing group, in turn, led to my participation in a local writing group. And finally, I tutor an ESL student and we meet at the public library in nearby Concord.
 
Ten years ago when I was looking for a house to buy, one of the immovable items on my list of requirements was that the house be within walking distance of a library. And indeed, I can see Randall Library from my garden and will walk over there later to return a book about the Sudan*once again the library and its wealth of books bringing the world to my doorstep.