I just read an article in Writer’s Digest with four successful writers describing how libraries played a central part in their lives. It made me think about my library growing up in Bowling Green, Mo. Janet Fitch said something that resonated with me. She said she used to ride public transport to the library when she was a kid & now can just drive there on her own. She said it feels wrong, somehow, to drive yourself. Library trips should be made on foot or at the least, public transportation.
Once I got my driver’s license, I have no memory of going to the public library. I didn’t stop reading; I just had other shit to do at that age that took away the need to hide out in the library. But until the age of 16, I either walked the three miles or so or rode my hand-me-down 10 speed my parents bought from my cousin for what I think may have been my 14th birthday.
To get to the library on foot, I had to walk through the woods behind my house, walk the railroad tracks, and then either climb up the embankment alongside the railroad bridge and walk along the highway, or walk through more woods and come out through a part of town where many of my town’s few Black people lived. I’ll give you three guesses what most of the locals called it. (Hint: they still call it that.) There was an older Black man I saw a lot there. He always smiled & waved & I would return both.
The library was magic. Books & comics & pro wrestling. Those were my escapes (still are). I discovered Roger Zelazny there & books on Egyptian mythology & books on witchcraft & brand-new Stephen King books & his older works I hadn’t read yet. I couldn’t tell you the name of the librarian, although, the current one is my former elementary school librarian. I wasn’t a fan. She wasn’t very friendly to kids. She wasn’t a terrible person or mean, just not all that nice.
The one before her, Mrs. Ross, was awesome. Through her, I discovered the Letter People on PBS & read books about astronomy & astronauts & mythology. I can still remember every inch of my elementary library because so much magic was there. We could check out a max of three books & I checked out three every time.
Back to the public library. My town was about 3,000 people, so there was no public transportation, except for my great-uncle who ran Bowling Green’s one-and-only taxi. He & my grandad had run the taxi company (or, The Cab Office) since the two of them returned home from Europe after WWII. I think I rode in his cab once & it was because I was with his sister, my sainted great-aunt Sylvia. So getting to the library was either on foot or on my bike & like Janet Fitch said, it seems only natural to arrive to the library that way because that’s how you got there when the library was an edifice to awesome, a temple of freedom, a pyramid of knowledge.
I was grounded a lot as a kid because being grounded was easier for my parents than actually parenting. Who grounds their kid in the summer for shit they did during the school year? Especially when it was grades-related & part of the punishment was not being able to go to the fucking library. I would sneak out of the house during the day while she was at work to go to the library or to the municipal pool. So my parents would punish me by taking away the ability to learn & be fit. Yeah. Therapy’s been fun.
Like I said, I don’t remember who the librarian was. I wasn’t that kid who talked to adults & formed relationships with them out of loneliness. I didn’t want to talk to them & I didn’t want them to talk to me. But she was very nice & I was very nice back. She held Stephen King books back for me because she knew I would be there once a week to scour the shelves for his work. I had just discovered him & was a rabid fan. One of the few things Mom ever did for me was create a love of reading, King specifically. My first book of his was IT, which I finished in a weekend in the eighth grade because, say it with me, I was grounded. Tommyknockers had just been released & it’s still one of my favorites because of the joy of getting it at the library.
Since then, I’ve used libraries mostly due to working from home for nearly five years and there’s a need for a change of scenery from time to time. The one here in Louisiana is great. Huge, stone building that’s on the historical registry. They have great kids’ programs & books are sloppy on the shelves in some places & stacked on top of the shelves in others. It’s gloriously disheveled, the way a warehouse of knowledge should look. I distrust libraries & comic book stores that look too neat. The search for words should be done in a place that is comfortably messy. Too much order comes off as intimidating.
Plus, you know if you’re in a library, you’re not going to run into any Trumpers. Because, you know, books.