When I was in college, I studied in the library in the stacks. If you know me well at all, this may be surprising to you; I am a true extrovert in that I gain energy from people. I write best in coffee shops or other public venues, I like to work out with a partner or in a class, I love being on stage in front of a crowd—the bigger the better. But being in a library, surrounded by books stacked floor to ceiling—well now that’s sanctuary right there.
I couldn’t tell you about my first trip to the library; I’ve been going to libraries since birth I guess, maybe even before that. I can picture clearly the library in my first elementary school and my second. I can visualize the public libraries in almost every town where I’ve lived. Not only that, I can basically draw a map of where the books were in each one. (This is especially impressive, considering the fact that I—not even kidding here—once got lost in Buies Creek, NC.)
Back in my Dr. Seuss days, I envied Rosy and her Red Rhinoceros (I mean, who wouldn’t want one of those?) and sympathized with dear, dear Horton. I wanted desperately to have a party at the top of a tree like the dogs in Go, Dog, Go; but I felt pretty strongly that Sam should have dropped the whole green eggs and ham thing. I never could understand his determination. The dude doesn’t want them; let it go, move on. It’s a wonder Sam didn’t faced harassment charges . . .
But I digress.
When I discovered Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann and Andy stories, I began a lifelong love of the stories and the dolls, which seemed so real to me after having read about their adventures. Down the shelf a bit, I came upon books by the Swedish author Maj Lindman. She wrote about triplet boys in Snip, Snap, and Snur, and about triplet girls in Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka. (Upon looking back, I see this was not the most believable of scenarios, but then I was reading Raggedy Ann and the Camel with the Wrinkly Knees; so apparently those weren’t my most discerning years.) On the shelf above the Gruelle books, I found L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series. Having watched the movie all my life, I delighted in what I called the real stories.
By the third grade, I had fallen in love with the Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner; Violet was my favorite and only partly because her name was the same as my favorite color. I went on the Alden children’s adventures right along with them, rooting for them as they solved mysteries and overcame life’s trials. When I finished one book, I would go to the school library in hopes that someone had returned a Boxcar Mystery I hadn’t read. My heart still quickens remembering seeing an available title among the bright colored spines. I’d take it off the shelf, flip to the back and pull out the library card, checking to see who had already read it. Then, after I’d signed the card myself and gotten the return date stamped on the chart inside the back cover, I’d slip it into my book sack, anticipating an afternoon with Violet, Jessie, Henry, and Benny. Such bliss!
I still love fiction and enjoy a good story as much as anyone, but now I read mostly nonfiction, often of the memoir variety. This isn’t a new habit though. I started reading biographies when I ran out of challenging fiction in the school’s collection. By the time I was 10, I could have given you a pretty good overview of the lives of my favorites: Clara Barton, George Washington Carver, Florence Nightingale, Harriet Tubman, or Booker T. Washington. Abraham Lincoln, though, was my hands-down top pick. Back then, I knew the details of his life as well as I knew my multiplication tables.
In every library, there are librarians, stockers, administrative assistants, and cleaning crews . . . at least. This thank you note is for all of you.
For all you have done for me by providing me a magical getaway right in my home town, and for all you’ve done for the world by creating a place to expand the mind and experience, thank you. Thank you for helping me find what I wanted and for putting it back on the shelf when I was done. Thanks for keeping the library clean and organized and for your proactive work to keep the holdings current and relevant. Thanks for staying late and opening early. Thanks for learning a new system of filing and then another one. Thanks for preserving data on film reels and microfiche, in databases and on thumb drives. All that work you do—it makes my life infinitely better. Because of you, the library is my happy place. So thank you—for the countless hours of joy you’ve given me. May it return to you a hundred fold!
Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.
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