Libraries We Have Loved
Michele: Since I’ve featured Libraries of a Lifetime, a library love fest all week, I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors to share a memory of a library that meant something special to each of them. Here’s what that said. Please join us on Facebook or Twitter to share yours. Thanks to those of you who have shared during the week.
Alison: When I started thinking about this question, it surprised me how clearly I can go back in time to the libraries I love. I’ll defer to Tracee on this, but I think libraries are some pretty amazing architectural spaces: the library at Trinity College in Dublin, the Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania, and, of course, the New York Public Library Main Branch. One of my fondest memories of a library was from the summer I lived in Paris. I was working on my senior thesis and spent every afternoon, just about, at the Centre George Pompidou. I loved everything about going to that library: taking the metro, seeing the performers and mimes outside, finding my books, reading, taking notes, and looking through those crazy windows. Years later I took my kids back (see the below photo from a time when my son was shorter than me). Vive la bibliothèque!
Paula: I grew up on army bases, where if you were late returning your books, they called your dad’s commanding officer to complain, who then called in your dad and dressed him down. My mom was not very good at returning books on time, and after one complaint too many we stopped using the base libraries. But I was a regular at the school library, wherever that school happened to be. And my mom always let me buy books at the PX. Whenever I asked for a 25-cent comic book, she would buy me a $1 book instead. And so I built my own library, one that I could take with me wherever we lived.
I didn’t start using a local library until I was pregnant with my first child, living in Fort Lauderdale in the land of swinging singles and retired people. I was pregnant and bored and unemployed and I read my way through that library, reading one or two books a day until Alexis was born. The librarian would help me carry out my weekly stack of books; the bigger I got, the bigger the stacks got.
I’ve been a huge fan of libraries—and librarians—ever since.
Tracee: I love the idea of Paula’s late library books causing a chain reaction down through the literal chain of command on base! I thought that nickel late fees were bad enough.
My start at a library was in Ruleville, Mississippi where I could check out any book I wanted. Since then I’ve heard so many stories of people who found their life’s purpose with the help of libraries and more specifically librarians. I know a very successful children’s book writer and illustrator who got his start at a mobile library in rural Kentucky. His mom pulled him to the library in a red wagon down a farm lane. They didn’t have more than a few books at his house and the sight of a ‘room’ filled with them was overwhelming. The librarian asked what he liked: horses and drawing. She found a book about drawing horses and eventually this led to his passion and career.
Alison mentioned ‘great libraries,’ including the Centre Pompidou. I’ll throw out some others in case you are traveling and happen to be near. Starting with the ancients, the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, Turkey (no books remain, but to think that this was here over two thousand years ago!). Next, the Biblioteca Joanina, a baroque library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal (what I would build as a personal library if I were king). It comes complete with resident bats to keep the insect population under control. And for a more modern approach, Hans Scharoun’s State Library in Berlin (a masterful use of interior space, and the setting for Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire). If you’re planning a trip to China there are a number of ancient and modern libraries that I would love to visit. Feel free to pave the way and send photos! Photo at the top is from the Biblioteca Joanina
Cate: I went to the local library often as a kid and would read there for hours while my mom amused my younger siblings in the young children’s reading room.
I also had my first magazine journalism interview in a library. An editor at BusinessWeek had a position open, which had demanded more experience than I’d had. Since he’d happened to live nearby, he’d granted me an interview in the Teaneck Public Library. I didn’t get the job. But, a few years later—after I’d gained more breaking news experience at a large daily newspaper—I was hired as a tech reporter. The editor I had met, who was then retiring, had put in a good word and they had reached out.
Robin: One or both of my parents took me to the library every Saturday to load up on more books when I was little. It wasn’t just the library that was important to me. I asked so many questions that my parents introduced me to the library’s Information Desk. I peppered that poor woman with questions on every visit. As soon as I found out I could call the desk from home and get a call back with answers, I called so often I was on a first name basis with the research librarian. Answers led to more questions, of course. She eventually taught me how to use the various library resources to find answers myself. Little did she know, I’d spend the rest of my life doing exactly that in one form or another.
Michele: OMG, I am howling at the picture of some poor research librarian dealing with a kid calling with relentless questions. You’re definitely a poster child for how libraries help kids succeed, Robin!
Susan: The first library that was important to me was the East Meadow Public Library, which was at the hub of the town where I grew up. It was right next to the church I attended, my high school, the county hospital and the county jail. So from the library window I could imagine all the various directions in which my life could go. It was not a cozy place the way my village library is now. I don’t think I ever ran into anyone I knew. But I just remember it was open and clean and quiet and lovely.
Alexia: Where to start? The library is one of my favorite places and so many have been major features in my life.
The first library important to me was actually a bookmobile. We didn’t have a library near us at the time. I remember running to the bookmobile the way other kids (okay, me, too) ran after the ice cream truck.
The second library important to me was the brick and mortar library that replaced the bookmobile. More specifically, the library card meant a lot to me–it was unrestricted. While other kids my age were limited to the children’s section, my mom let me have a full access card so I could read “grownup” books. I’d check out murder mysteries and classics.
The 3rd library important to me was my college library. Vassar College’s library is a beautiful gothic (Tracee, don’t slam me.on the architectural term. I’m pretty sure “gothic” is the style.) edifice with wings and towers and sub-basements and nooks and crannies. It was the first academic library I’d been in. So. Many. Books. Once I discovered the basement stacks, I went down more rabbit holes than Alice.