I love the library. My mother took us to the library often as children. I loved to sit in the bean bags and wonder over page after page. The library we frequented was small--located in a strip mall, but every once in a while, we went further in to town--to the Big Library. It had two, wide floors stocked with sturdy tables, good lighting and, of course, rows and rows of books. I almost always went for a little wander just to see what could be seen. I would amble up and down the aisles of non-fiction books that were far above my reading (and interest) level just because I could. This building belonged to me, in a way. I knew that no place was off-limits, that if I found something interesting, I could plop down, right on the carpet if I wanted, and read. As I grew older, I became interested in the magazine section. One whole wall was papered in the most recent edition of everything. . . sailing, running, politics, woodworking, mechanics, body building, fashion . . . you name it, there was a magazine for it. And, like Matilda, I always felt comfortable in a library.
When I left home for the first time and found myself an ocean away from everything familiar, I took refuge in the library. One of my favorite jobs ever was that Freshman year, manning the check-out desk from nine o'clock to noon Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
When our family was young, I hauled my people to story time every Thursday at eleven. Our neighborhood library was another very small facility, but it was still ours. After story time, we would come home, cuddle up on the couch with our mountain of books, and read, read, read until nap time. In fact, I went into labor with our third child during story time. She waited to come until this precious appointment was concluded.
A few years ago, we changed towns, and libraries, again. We are near the Big Library this time. Obtaining my library card was one of the first things I did after the moving boxes were flattened. Between home schooling, having three pods reading at different levels with different interests, and the literary pursuits of my husband and I, we are at the library a lot. I try to go during the day when other patrons are at work or school. We often have the children's section to ourselves. I can see my children mimicking my childhood actions of selecting a heap of words and pictures, finding an out-of-the-way place, and traipsing into new adventures unavailable to them only moments before.
The children's librarian, Kathryn, is Wonderful. With a capital W. She has one of those faces that rests in a smile. I love to ask her opinion and get recommendations. We never talk long (it is a library after all), but we usually visit for a few minutes when I come.
Today, we struck up a conversation about a book they had gotten in that she knew my son and I would like. We wandered from that to audio books--ones we liked and ones we didn't. It's always fun to compare notes. When it was time for me to leave, she said, "Have a good night, my friend." Now, Have a good night, or something similar is a common farewell, but the tag, my friend, struck me. I have never spoken with her outside of the library, but when I added up all the small, but significant conversations we've had over the past four years, I realized that we had, indeed, become friends. Over books.
Here a library, by definition, is a collection of wildly different things. You can find books about pirates and wheelchairs, romance and taxes, aerobics and gardens. People come for information about cats, for Pete's sake, something I would never care to research, and they would likewise never come to research electrical wiring. Yet there is a unity among those of us who patronize (or work in) a library. We love books and the knowledge they impart. We love the smell of the binding, the weight of the paper, the clarity of the pictures. We love the freedom of a story and its' transporting words. We are all different, but we come together, and even become friends, because of a similar love for our library.
I think, maybe, there's a lesson there.