The library has been for me a refuge, a resource, an adventure… and a great equalizer. It was one place I never felt poor or powerless.
The first library I knew was a bookmobile. It would arrive one day each week about a half-mile from our house in the parking lot of A.J. Bayless grocery store in south Tucson, Arizona. It was a big bus outfitted with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a desk at the front for checkout. For a kid who was always on the lookout for freebies, this was the jackpot.
We’d lunge up the big steps of the bus, and there it was: a wonderland of books… ours for the taking… for free! I would check out as large a stack as I could carry. My favorites were fantasies of all sorts. I still remember being enchanted by Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and all sorts of tales that freed me from the boundaries of poverty and isolation.
And then there were the non-fiction delights — biographies, geographies, craftbooks. I loved the landscaping and gardening books that inspired me to study horticulture later in college. I’d check them out just to look at the pictures. One particular Japanese garden with a large pond, sculptured trees and a red bridge is saved in my memory and is as real for me as any I’ve actually visited.
Desktop computers and the Internet didn’t exist when I was in elementary school. When students had to do research for school projects, we usually relied on encyclopedias. Few families could afford to keep a current set of the costly books at home, but the library always had several up-to-date sets. So when it came time to do a report, we’d hole up in the library until the project was done.
Whenever I have a problem, I still head to the library for help. Whether it’s about baking bread, raising children or unraveling the mysteries of the universe, I know that somewhere in the library there is a book that has some answers and will enlighten me.
As a mother, the library has been invaluable. My sons’ first social experience was storytime at the library. I always looked forward to joining other parents and their toddlers in listening to stories, singing songs, and watching puppet shows. Then I’d let my children pick out books for the week.
All of my sons are strong readers with excellent writing skills. I credit the library for that. I would never have been able to afford to purchase the hundreds of books they’ve enjoyed. I’ve tried to teach them to look to books for answers because they contain the wisdom of others who’ve gone before us.
The true miracle of books for me is that they are the closest we get to being inside another human being’s mind, to understanding how someone else thinks. One of the greatest frustrations of our humanity is that we are each separate entities with a unique perspective even on shared experiences, yet there isn’t one of us on the planet who doesn’t need to connect with another human being in some way. Books allow us to do that. Reading a book is like trying on another person’s mind. And libraries are filled with every sort of thought, every sort of experience.
I believe that public libraries are one of the greatest achievements of our civilization. To think that any citizen can go into a library and have access to an incredibly vast repository of knowledge at no cost, is amazing!
The library is also part of a vision for my future. My goal is to have my own book in the library, to add my voice to the thousands that are found in those wonderful buildings. And maybe someday, some person far away will pick up my book from a shelf in a library, and connect with me in a way that couldn’t happen elsewhere. In that space between the book covers, we will meet, and each of our lives will be expanded.
I will forever be grateful for the connections and opportunities made possible by our libraries.