MY LIFE IN LIBRARIES, PART ONE: THE EARLY YEARS
by Marilyn A. Hudson
Part 1 – The early years
The first library of my life was a simple mission style book case in the living room containing the only books in the house; the crimson bound set of the “World Book Encyclopedia.” I loved going through that set with its drawings, lithographs, and colorful overlays. There was an overlay of a frog showing it from skeleton to flesh and one of the human body; which I found to be very insightful. For years I imagined our insides stacked with clear sheets containing nice flat organs and bones.
I really loved those books and as I learned to read, they were an amazing source of explanation. I would watch an old movie on television and want to learn more about airplanes, the French Revolution, or atoms and head to the shelf. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, I’d start with the answer to my question but then find I had read whole other sections as well.
The first time I was in a public library I was in the third grade on a field trip. In our small town, the library was not for just anyone. It was an old Carnegie building with dark, moody oak and arts and crafts furnishings, ringed by tomes weighty and well endowed by time. A shrine to knowledge victorious over ignorance, and the elite to whom such mysteries were made available, it was a holy of holies accessed via a steep set of stairs. Climbing those stairs always brought images of entering a palace, climbing a scaffold, or ascending the steps of a Mayan temple as the next virgin sacrifice – depending on the mood of the reason for going that particular day. It was the product and hobby of local aristocracy, leading members of society, and their offspring. All others were well aware of the largess that allowed the plebian masses to also enjoy its benefits.
The children’s room was an added feature, not part of the original plans, and as far away from the library general as possible. It even had its own side entrance. I remember it was a dreary day and the yellow shelves could only brighten the room so much. There was a nice neutral and bland tan carpet, white walls, and some spots of warm wood in rocker and a desk. It was not a children’s area – but a restrained adult image of a suitable space for children engaged in appropriate activities to educate, but not stimulate, the young mind.
The next library of my life was in an elementary classroom in school. A long metal shelving unit, with sliding doors ran under the large windows. Inside were secured the drawing paper, glues, scissors, and in one section two shelves of books. They were old books, well worn, and somewhat abused. Cast off text books, literature, poetry, and novels they were available to just anyone who wanted to read them. I read the many amazing adventures of a boy and girl and their dog in short, easily managed sentences. Then I moved on to a story of a small Martian who arrived in an orchard and had adventures with the little boy who lived on the farm. I read of a horse that raced across cool meadows and ended up blinkered pulling a milk wagon. I read of faraway places and local history.
Then, however, came the library in Junior High. A large room on the third floor, northeast corner, of an old red multistoried school, the library was a magnet. Warm oak shelves, tables, chairs and wooden blinds as old as the school created a welcoming aura. I wandered those aisles, thumbed through the card catalog, and nibbled at every crumb dropped my way in class, in a book, or from the world around me. I was not a good student in those days. I was too unsure, insecure, and easily intimidated by those around me. In the library, though, I was reading Dumas, Virgil, and other classics in the sixth grade. I would take the later bus home and stay to finish my class assignments before checking out books to read on the bus: The Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Shakespeare, Ivanhoe, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire…
Strangely, I must confess, I do not remember if there was a librarian there or not. I think there was a woman of indeterminate age and shape who revealed to me the mysteries of the card catalog, the layout, and the borrowing process. Sometimes there was an older student who listlessly checked the books out to me, but usually my head was down, focused on the new treasure in my hands, and I did not notice such trifles.
It was enough that the priceless and endless bounty of the temple of the library had been opened to me.
(M.Hudson, 2010; Permission to reproduce is given, if credit line is included)