I was small when I first climbed the steep steps to the Walker Branch Library on the south side of Chicago. I can still hear the creak of the wooden floors as we entered and turned right into the Children’s Library. My mother guided me to the corner shelves, and there my relationship with books took root–they were numerous, colorful, their paper and bindings tactilely pleasing. They held magic and they held me. I fell in love.
I can still remember the eager tingling of my fingers as I pulled books about Cinderella, Snow White, English and Spanish queens, and numerous fairy tales from the shelves and clutched them to my chest. I could take these home. Yes, we had books at home, but not these particular books whose spines I memorized so that I could easily find them again on a future trip. For as a child it wasn’t always about finding something new, but finding again something cherished and loved. (Every autumn through my high school years, I went to the library and checked out Jan Struthers MRS. MINIVER. It had a tangerine-colord spine and I was always happy to find it on the shelf waiting for me.) The books, the smells, the quiet. My love story began.
In high school I discovered research and the card catalogue. Given a difficult assignment by my sophomore biology teacher, I took the train downtown to the Chicago Public Library at Washington and Michigan. With a little help from a research librarian (love those people) I found articles on ATP, DNA, RNA and mitochondrion. It was the age of Watson and Crick; the infinitesimal workings of our bodies was the hottest info out there. I got an A on the paper and marveled that I was able to find within that huge library the exact information that I needed. A mini-miracle that was.
But the library that truly became my home sat on a splendid green lawn that sloped to the shore of Lake Michigan. This was Ms. Carrie Wheeler’s dream castle, a house built in 1909 at 6300 Sheridan Road on the north side of Chicago. It was renamed Piper Hall in 1934 and repurposed as a library for Mundelein College. Accessible from my dorm, I spent almost every night of my college life sitting at various desks in the library or searching the stacks which were on the 3rd floor. There I found amazing resources for papers on John Keats or Shakespeare.
As a high school English teacher I spent many hours in the library familiarizing my students with the card catalogue and the importance of research papers. As a mother, the library was a short walk, one we took often to find picture books to take home or even to read there; story hour was a treat for my son who wore his pjs and brought a favorite stuffed animal. And later there were medical libraries where I researched articles for Nursing Spectrum/Nurseweek.
Of course the entire process of researching has been revolutionized by the internet. Incredibly, I can sit here and type in Piper Hall and up comes a photo. Card catalogues have gone the way of computers. My friend Joan, a librarian, has one in her home which she now uses to store lots of things!
I still cherish libraries and though I could download a book on a device for the book clubs I belong to, I’d far rather hold the work in my hands and read it–and I get to go to the library.
My love story about libraries is shared by many. At a recent talk David McCullough, renowned author of biographies of John Adams and Harry Truman stated: Books are the furniture of the mind. Yes and they are also the important furniture of those buildings that house them. Barbara Kingsolver, fiction author of works like The Poisonwood Bible states: I attempted briefly to consecrate myself in the public library, believing every crack in my soul could be chinked with a book.” And Cicero wrote: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” I would add–it doesn’t have to be a big library, but a shelf of ten books or so that you love, that you want to dip into now and again. And there’s nothing better than having a book on your bedside table–just waiting there for you like a treasure before you sleep. It’s all part of the love story of reading and libraries. Enjoy.
Thanks to Google Images