Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Library and Me

When I was asked to participate in Jennie Shortridge's blog tour for Love And Biology at the Center of the Universe, I snapped up the opportunity. Jennie is very kind, and a fantastic writer, so I'm excited to bring you her reminiscences about the library and the role libraries have played in her life thus far.

In fifth grade, I had the option of taking a study hall or working in the library. I thought I'd hit the jackpot, and was surprised I was the only one who thought an hour alphabetizing and shelving books was the ideal way to spend one's time. But I got the library to myself, and I got to wander through the stacks, breathing in that gorgeous book smell. The books I remember shelving most often were those from the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, Island of the Blue Dolphin, and the books about the Chincoteague ponies. Girls and wilderness, girls and dolphins, girls and ponies--wow! Upon reflection, perhaps those were just the books I was most interested in.

My mother took us to the library every week, as far back as I can remember. We were allowed three books each, my three sisters and I, and my mother generally checked out even more for herself. We were a family of voracious readers, in an almost ridiculous way. We'd quickly zip through our own books then read each others, even my mom's. I was nine or ten when I read Pearl Buck, Mary Stewart, Philip Roth. When our family went camping, we'd all grab our books and find a spot to sit and read. No hiking or fishing for us, to my dad's dismay. We just wanted to enter the private worlds waiting for us between the pages.

In high school, I had yet another chance to work in the school library, and again, I jumped on it. I memorized the titles I wandered around, particularly in fiction. I read the dust jackets and wanted to read them all, even though I didn't understand quite a few of them at the time. I was still game. I read Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, The Stranger by Albert Camus. I was giddy with the words and ideas, even though many of the concepts eluded or befuddled me. I wanted to be smart and know about the world. I still do, but I feel pretty certain The Stranger would still elude me.

Of course, I also read trashy novels from the library, like Valley of the Dolls, and popular fiction. I found my first Barbara Kingsolver there, my first Alice Walker. I started checking out record albums of old blues singers and folk musicians, Odessa, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey.

I learned the history of literature, music, my country, and all of the things I would not get to learn about in college, because, alas, I would not be going. I moved out on my own at seventeen and began to support myself. It was then—most especially—that the library was my oasis, the place I could go find anything I wanted to know about, anything I wanted to hear, and eventually, watch on video, and all for free.

Now, as a writer, the library—and the wonderful people who work there—are my godsend. I can do research still not available on the internet, find a quiet place to write away from my home office phone and dirty laundry. And I can walk the stacks and take a deep breath, and marvel, still, at how much I love books: their smell, the ideas and words and many possibilities they hold.
Thank you to Jennie Shortridge for taking time out to write this lovely post! Visit her website here.


  1. Awesome post and what a great, trip through childhood. I often wish people realized the treasure there is in a library. I mean, do all of the people who sit in Borders or whatever large, chain book store realize that you can sit in the library with your laptop and read or BORROW all of these books for free? I can't wait to take my kids to the library. I have to admit, I definitely don't go as often as we did when we were kids and it's something I really need to make a point to do!

  2. Loved this guest post! My family camps a lot, and I wish I could just plop down with a book!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  3. Such lovely reflections about the library. I started "working" in my elementary school library too (instead of going to gym class - how lucky was I?) and that's when the library became a sanctuary of sorts for me.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this!

  4. Beautiful! :-) What a lovely homage to the public library.

  5. Amen, Funky! I love sitting in the library for free...especially since they've added pretty murals and a nice sitting area and it's sort of like a big cushy chain!

    Anna, don't we all. :D

    Becca, lucky lady! I didn't get to start working in my school library until high school.

    Isn't it, Marie? I just loved this post. Jennie's fantabulous.

  6. What a terrific post, Jennie! It sure does bring back memories of my childhood in the library. Like your family, mine made weekly trips to the public library as well. And I spent a lot of time in elementary school shelving and alphabetizing books as I waited for my mom to get done with whatever task she was doing after school (she worked at the school). Libraries will always have a special place in my heart.


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