For the Love of Libraries

There are few places I enjoy more than a library. Browsing the aisles of books fills me with happiness and watching my own kids excitedly explore the children’s section brings me joy.   In addition, I believe there are few places that are as important to our communities as our libraries. They are safe spaces designed to ensure everyone has access to information, technology, educational resources, and opportunities to foster a love of reading.  From the small library down the street from my house to the museum-like city landmarks, I am always in awe of the role libraries  play in our communities and the impact they have had on my own life.  The last week of April was National Library Week, and in celebration of libraries everywhere I am sharing a few of my favorite library memories.

Personal photo taken outside Nashville Public Main Library

When I was in elementary school, my mom and I would regularly visit the library.  I still remember the old library (which has since relocated) where the kids’ books filled a room in the basement.  You could walk down the main staircase or wander to the back of the library and find a hidden, old fashioned spiral staircase that seemed straight out of a fairytale.  It is at that library where I learned to love reading.  I checked out Sweet Valley Twins, Babysitter Club, and Nancy Drew books by the armful.  I was about ten when I asked the librarian to help me find ALL the books on hamsters.  I sat at an old wooden table in the non-fiction section with my notebook paper, number 2 pencil, and a pile of library books and wrote my first “research paper,” attempting to convince my mom to let me buy my first pet.  Although there was  a strict no-pet rule at my house, even my mom was swayed by my well-researched plea for a hamster.  I brought my first hamster, Teddy, home that year.  A living, breathing example of the power of the knowledge found at the library. 

When I was in college, I spent a semester participating in an Urban Studies Program in Chicago.  One of the first places they brought us was the Chicago Public Library.  I was in awe of the beautiful space.  I could almost feel the knowledge that was contained within the building, and at that point in my life I had never been anywhere that prodigious.  Throughout that semester, whenever I was overwhelmed with life in the city, I would spend time at the library, always finding calm amongst the books.  This experience in Chicago led to my love of big city libraries and inspired a lifelong goal: to visit the local library wherever I travel.  I have had the opportunity to visit amazing, varied libraries across the United States.  I love sitting in a reading room or writing at a table hidden within shelves of books.  I think about all the creative people who have contributed to our libraries and the ideas that have taken form while sitting in the same places.  I have a couple of vacations planned for this upcoming summer and have already told my travel companions that the local library will be on our list of destinations. 

Personal photo taken of the Boston Public Library reading room

As a young adult, I spent a significant amount of time at the library.  I especially appreciated the free air conditioning and quiet space, a respite from the noise of life.  I spent many hours reading and writing, seated at a table near a large window overlooking part of downtown.  One of my favorite library memories happened quite unexpectedly before a summer trip.  A few days prior, I had checked out a book and accidently read it too quickly and needed to find a replacement to read before an upcoming vacation.  That night, on a date at a restaurant just blocks away from the library, I excitedly mentioned we should take advantage of our location and make  a pit-stop at the library.  Little did I know, my date had planned a romantic rooftop proposal across the street and had already delivered the engagement ring to the host to keep the plan a surprise.  My now-husband adamantly tried to direct me to the rooftop and I matched his stubbornness, explaining how important it was that I find a new book to read on vacation.  I found his persistence amusing but the rooftop date unnecessary in comparison to my need for a book.  I was unaware of his growing panic and was simply happy when he settled for a compromise to do both.  Who knew a library visit and a rooftop surprise engagement would both be a part of one of my favorite nights.  And, it was also the night my husband learned even his best laid plans couldn’t get between me and my books. 

Personal photo NDSU library

When the world shut down in 2020, the closing of our neighborhood library was another loss my kids and I mourned.  We joined virtual story times and read e-books, finding new ways to continue to engage our love of reading.  When the libraries reopened, it was a celebration at our house.  I gave my kids very specific rules: our masks must stay on, we will use hand sanitizer on the way in and out, and we will check out every book we touch so we don’t leave any of our germs behind.  When we walked through the doors of the library that day, my kids squealed with excitement and I almost cried.  They excitedly started grabbing their favorite books off the shelf and I cautiously picked a new release I’d been wanting to read.  Due to the “check-out everything you touch” rule I had implemented, we maxed out my library card that day.  Both kids walked to the car with wobbly towers of books in their arms.  I still laugh as I picture my husband’s astonished expression when he saw that mound of books.  My kids and I spent the rest of the day reading in the living room. 

Even more valuable than my own experiences in libraries, is the space they provide for all of us.  When I worked as a middle school social worker, I was always referring students to the library. When my students approached me with questions, Where do I study for my drivers test?  How do I apply for a summer job?  Where can I check out the newest movie or game?  Where can I work on my homework?, my answer was always, the library. Most importantly, a frequently unasked question, where can I safely go when I can’t be at home?  Again, my consistent response was the library.  Libraries are a safe haven for many, a place that keeps information available for all, and a place where we can connect with authors who came before us, and form ideas for adventures that are yet to come.  Happy Belated National Library Week, I wish you all the best on your next library adventure. 

Personal photo taken at the Ames Free Library in Easton, MA

Jessica is a wife, mom, social worker, and writer.  She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.

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