Library Love

Jessie, in NH where, as usual, Valentine’s Day is cold and the ground is covered in a blanket of snow

Since my post this month fell on Valentine’s Day, the topic of love naturally came to mind. It took me a bit of time to decide which variety of love would be of the greatest interest to discuss with all of you. And then, as I looked out the window of my office and my gaze alighted on the beloved public library next door to my home, I knew I had the answer.

Since you are a reader of this blog I can only assume you have fond memories and an enthusiastic relationship with libraries. After all, which reader does not? I often think that the notion of a library represents some of the best aspects of humanity. In a world where things have gone a bit haywire of late, considering the way libraries have risen to recent challenges gives me a much-needed boost of hope.

According to the ALA, the first library in the States was created in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin and was a subscription service with fees paid by members. I think of it as a sort of early kind of Netflix. Also according to the ALA, the very first public library in the US to be supported by taxpayers was started in Peterborough, NH. I feel rather choked up to think such a thing occurred in my very own state!

Like love, libraries come in a wide variety. There are the grand, big city library systems with large budgets and vast collections like the NY Public Library. There are tiny libraries like the one my grandmother patronized in her later years. Prisons have libraries, as do many churches. Mobile libraries have included those pulled by horses, in railway cars, or aboard ships. In Colombia, there is a program that uses donkeys to bring books to remote areas.

And what about Little Free Libraries? There is one in my own village and another at a lakeside playground a few miles away. In the UK, some iconic red telephone boxes have been converted to Little Free libraries. Home libraries are so loveable too. Which avid reader doesn’t cherish the notion of carving out a corner of their home, no matter how small, as a dedicated space for books?

Libraries have moved with the times and now, more than ever, they seem to me to make trusted sources of quality information and entertainment available to so many. While the pandemic temporarily closed many, if not most, libraries to in-person patronage, the digitized response to the situation has broadened the reach of collections to a remarkable degree. The Digital Public Library of America, the Bodleian, the Library of Congress, and the British Public Library all have a dazzling array of resources available online.

I have so many fond memories of the libraries I have visited over the years. One of my early childhood memories involved riding an elevator in a library in the Detroit area. I can still remember the swoosh and the hush and the smell of so much paper all in one place. I think from time to time of the library where I borrowed my first Nancy Drew. I remember the one at my high school where I spent every lunch hour. One of my most powerful memories is of being in the Bodleian Old Library with one of my sons and realizing that tears were rolling down my face from the beauty of it. And for the last 27 years, there is the ongoing love affair I have had with the library next door to my own home. Through the years I have loved patronizing it in person, attending storytime with my kids, joining the knitting group it hosts on Friday afternoons, and even holding my first and second book launches there. I could not have asked for a better neighbor.

This year, I think I’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day by heading next door to check out something new!

Readers, tell me about one of your library loves or a fond library memory!

41 Thoughts

  1. I loved going to the library with my mom. We would go every 3 weeks and pick each of us an armload of books that we both would enjoy and switch off. It was out mom and daughter time and then we would come home and sit in the living room and start to read our haul. One of the best gifts mom gave me was a love of reading.

  2. Libraries are the best. I remember going to your second book launch party in that library, Jessie! I spent hours in the public library growing up, and my local library’s curbside pickup during the first year of the pandemic really saved us.

    1. Libraries really have risen to the recent challenges, haven’t they? I am so grateful for the increase of available digital content. I check a magazine out just this morning via an app in my tablet. Such fun!

  3. Libraries have always been a big part of my life.

    We could not afford to buy books but my mom always took me to the main library in our Toronto suburb every week.

    I worked part-time jobs as a student librarian from junior high to university. I love all the tasks: shelving books (and maps at the university map library), manning the check-out desk, processing newly ordered books.

    At home, I have a library room with thousands of books. But I still go to the Ottawa Public library several times a month to check out books, ebooks and DVDs.

    And several Free Little Libraries have popped up in my neighbourhood. I just dropped off a book yesterday afternoon and got another new find to add to my TBR mountain.

  4. I remember how proud I was the day I received my very first library card in the children’s reading room of the Rutherford Public Library. I felt as if a world opened up. In high school I served as president of the library council. My favorite library of all, the main branch of the New York City Public Library on 5th Avenue. What a privilege to walk up those steps between the lions. I still harbor a secret wish to be turned lose in their back stacks. Can you imagine the treasures stored there!

    1. First library cards are like first driver’s licenses! They can take you anywhere! I think, Kait, that imagining the back stacks in the NYPL will fill my thoughts today! If I miss my word count I will use that as a handy excuse!

  5. I went to the library as a kid. Or in the summers, it came to me via the Bookmobile. As a teen, I spent study hall in the school library.

    I didn’t spend much time in the town library as an adult though. That is until the last 3 or 4 years (if you factor in the 2 plus years of the pandemic). The library director at the time I started back to the library started up the Mystery Book club and on a lark I joined. Even though I never liked the idea of joining a book club beforehand.

    But I liked this one and it was fun to read the chosen book (okay, the first book was AWFUL but still) and then talk about it with the other members of the group. And thanks to the graciousness of two authors, when we chose one of their books they attended the meeting! Ingrid Thoft called in via video link and Edith actually came to the meeting in person.

    While the memories of the past exist, details escape me. But getting to have Edith come in person and Ingrid appear by the magic of video is probably my favorite NEW memories of the library.

    1. Those are wonderful memories! I bet the authors enjoyed visiting as much as you enjoyed having them! I know that I love to talk with book clubs whenever I have a chance. There is something so delightful about spending time with other book people!

  6. I love the library by your house, Jessie! I loved going to the library in my hometown. Our town had a beautiful old Carnegie Library when I was young. I can still remember how it smelled of old wood and old books. It had to be torn down because the ground under it was unstable. The new library was designed by Edward Durrell Stone who designed the Kennedy Center. There is some resemblance. Weekly trips to the bookmobile which stopped at a park a few blocks from our house were also fun.

  7. My fondest memory is the feeling of being grown up when I was given the responsibility of keeping up with my little library card on the days the book mobile would be visiting our school. Then it being my turn to enter the small bus/van to select an adventure to read. Knowing it wouldn’t be back for a while, the book was often read several times. I can remember how fascinating it was when the school built a small library, but it was mostly for reference books like the encyclopedias meaning the book mobile was still looked forward to with great anticipation.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. I know just what you mean about feeling like an adult given that responsibility! My mother’s town had a bookmobile and she has shared similar enthsiasm for it with me!

  8. I think my favorite library is Friedsam Memorial Library at my alma mater, St. Bonaventure. It is huge, and old, and brick, and houses not only massive amounts of books, but the university’s rare book collection and several paintings. It was a joy to go find myself a cubby to work in for hours, then stretch out by the back windows overlooking the mountains and take a nap in the afternoon sun.

    I was also a member of the library club in high school. Spent many free periods down there.

  9. Great post, Jessie! This might sound strange, but my favorite library is now my home. We recently found and hung 3D curtains printed with old-world books. An excellent complement to the large double-door bookshelf spanning the wall. I finally get to live in a library. LOL!

  10. So many great library memories. For something recent, my niece got married at the Indianapolis Central Library last November. It was a wonderful evening to be surrounded by friends, family, and so many books!

  11. Among my earliest memories is playing in the dust-laden sunshine streaming through windows in the closed-in porch my father had converted to his home library. Later, I would wait hours after school in the graduate reading room of the Harper Library of the University of Chicago. My mother was a cataloguer at Harper so I would spend hour reading my huge book of fairy tales beside all those diligent grad students!

    1. What evocative images! I can just see a small girl with a giant book perched in a library, perhaps looking a bit like a fairy herself in the midst of the students!

  12. I have stacked up so many happy hours in libraries. I even was able to be a worker in some of my school libraries from about 5th grade on. My Nancy Drew collection went to my local when I moved on to Agatha Christie. When you remember the number of hours researching through school and college, I think we all spent hundreds of hours in libraries. After moving multiple times in my life, I know I have been in probably dozens of libraries and still like having to go find a particular one for a research project now. Something very comforting about them in our lives.

  13. I remember as a child, the school library was located in the cafeteria. I would look at the books as I stood in line to buy my lunch and pick out the next one I wanted to get when we had library day. And then the magic happened. The bookmobile came and they had books from the county library. If the book wasn’t there you could request it and the next time they came they would have it there for you so books that weren’t carried in our library at school we could get through the bookmobile it was fabulous I loved it.

  14. The Helen Kate Furness Library in Wallingford, Pennsylvania was right in our little development. It was the first place I was allowed to walk entirely independently and the place where the children’s library gently suggested it was time for me to explore the books for adults upstairs. So for me, this library was a critical part of growing up.

    1. That seems to be the case for so many of the commenters here today, Barb! I wonder how much that feeling of growing up reinforced a love of reading for those who are passionate book people as adults?

  15. The main library in the city where I grew up was founded by Andrew Carnegie. Or at least the building was paid for by him. It’s a beautiful building, and I remember spending many happy hours in there exploring as a kid, and visiting all my friends at their spots on the shelves to see which ones were there and which were being enjoyed by others.

    1. I always love browsing too! I used to enjoy pulling out the cards in the pockets to see when a volume had last been borrowed. I wish they were still used!

  16. Libraries are my Happy Place and have been since I was a small child. My grandmother and parents gave me Little Golden Books to practice my early reading and I still have them. The public school I attended had a library that was one of the only places in the school building that was air conditioned. I used to go into the library after school waiting for my school teacher mom to finish working and pick out a book to sit and read. The librarian kept the library dark unless a class was invited in to check out books, so often I was reading in the dark…but it was a cool spot and I loved it. My first public library experience was getting my library card, but I shunned the children’s area and went straight to the stacks. Fortunately a nice librarian helped me find books that I could read. I fell hard and fast in love with libraries and made being inside one my career. I have yet to go into a library that I did not love. And, at our house we believe like the saying on t-shirts: It’s Not Hoarding, if it’s books!” Fortunately, our shelves are groaning less since we started giving away parts of our home library. However, some books are just too precious to only read once!

  17. I envy all of you who had a parent take you to the library. My mother was a snob and thought libraries were only for poor people who couldn’t afford to buy books. Not that we could, either, but she was too proud to admit to that. Also, I seriously doubt she had ever set foot into a library. However, probably in defiance, I haunted libraries as soon as I was old enough to do so. I couldn’t take books home from the school library until I was old enough to read books that didn’t look like children’s books. She never looked closely enough to know the difference. When I discovered how much I loved doing research in a library, I was totally hooked. Yes, the internet is fast and convenient, but there is nothing like going through file folders of newspaper clippings and other ephemera. There was a time that I lived near a neighborhood library and went once a week to get a stack of books at a time. Many moves and many changes in my life have altered that routine, but I still love the feel and smell of real books in real libraries.

    1. You must have been meant to be a devoted reader, Ginny! I am so sorry to hear that your mother felt as she did. I have never heard of anyone thinking quite that way about libraries, but I am just delighted that you found a way round her in order to indulge in your love of books! I love to hear stories of triumph!

  18. Every summer I participate in a project for the Reading Public Library (Mass,) Childrens summer reading program with some of my English Learner students. Last summer we made a “follow the trail of Chompy the rabbit (an actual library resident!) as he walked a loop through downtown discovering new places and doing activities.. there was even one for the parents!) 140 children participated! 🙂

    1. I love that libraries are a resource for English Learners! It sounds like you are offering something wonderful in your community! What a lot of participants you had!

  19. Jessie, thanks so much for this post. It warms my heart. I love the photo of our little library from your window. Would it be ok if I shared your post to the library’s Facebook page?

  20. Thank you, Jessie, for posting this love letter to libraries. The one in my life played an essential role in my becoming a writer. In the town where I grew up, there was only one other kid who looked like me (my sister!). Babcock Public library was a safe, friendly place where the town librarian always welcomed me and fed me as many mysteries as I could devour.

    1. Libraries are so wonderful in that way, aren’t they? Somehow, there is something in them that creates space to feel seen and understood by someone, even if that someone is a fictional character. I love hearing that your experience helped you to become a writer yourself and that at least one welcome you felt was from a librarian! Such a heartfelt memory! Thanks so much for sharing it!

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