Phyllis from Mahwah, New Jersey

A sanctuary…a workplace…a safe, quiet, comforting,
nurturing environment…a place to teach and learn and be
responsible. Libraries have always been a part of my
life. Library rules have always appealed to me: be
respectful of others who are reading and speak quietly,
borrow books that you think you’ll love and then bring
them back so others can love them too, and take care of
these books by enjoying food and drinks anywhere but in
this library. When I was very small, my mother allowed
me to choose my own picture books to borrow and take
care of.

I still feel a sense of peace when I recall the libraries of my childhood—sanctuaries where we whispered, absorbed information, smiled at our favorite characters. My mother or my father read to me, using fun voices and stimulating rhythms. James Stevenson’s books filled me with wonder and a little envy—how come stuff like that never happened to me? A magic day came when I was able to write my own name and get my very own card; that was the first time I felt truly grown up (even if I did hand it to my mom after checking out my books so it wouldn’t get lost).

In junior high school, I was the new girl for awhile,
and before I made friends I spent each recess in the
school library. I escaped the raucous, thick noise of
the lunchroom as quickly as I could and felt protected
by the shelves that surrounded me as I wandered up and
down, searching for answers. I read about kids my age
with louder, sharper, jazzier personalities than mine,
and eventually I was able to come out of my shell.
Instead of rushing off to the school library, I stayed
sometimes—then more and more often—and connected with my peers. 

In high school my mother helped me get a job at Soule
Library, where I shelved books—I can still alphabetize
anything quicker than you can!—and read and reread
favorites. No one noticed if I quickly read a children’s non-fiction book on snakes before I put it away, and on my breaks I might skim some Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry (an elementary school favorite) if I needed some cheering up. Of course, I delved into the adult romance section, too, to confirm my suspicions that grownups consistently have more fun than kids do—complete with happy endings.

Cornell University has no fewer than nineteen
libraries, but I spent most of my time as an
undergraduate there in Uris and Mann Libraries. Of
course I did a lot of research and studying there, but
I absolutely loved visiting the stacks. The stacks! How
could there be so many books? Once I found a book by a
friend’s father, and it was so incredible. In an
enormous world, I had found someone I knew! I realized
that most books are written by people I don’t know, but
look at this: they can be written by people I do know,
too. In college I learned that everyone has a story to
tell.

These days, going to the library is a Mommy and Me
affair. I’m there to do what my parents did for me;
teach my children to love reading and exploring the
world through literature. If I even get to go into the
adult section of the library—my two daughters prefer it
when I sit in the child-size fire engine with them and
read picture books—I have time to choose only one or
two books. But I don’t have to check it all out in this
one visit. I’ll be back soon enough, grateful for the
experience of the books I’ve borrowed, and hungry for
whatever comes next. 

Each trip I’ve made to the library has inspired me.
This lifelong journey through borrowed books has given
me the confidence to begin my own literary life.
Perhaps, one day, if I work hard enough and keep
trying, I will bring my children to the library to
check the shelf and see if a book is there—way at the
end of the shelf, filed alphabetically.