Wednesday, February 6, 2013

An Old Love/Hate Relationship

When I was in elementary school, I took swimming lessons at our town's YMCA. Never very daring, I remained a Minnow for a Very Long Time because I flatly refused to do the sit-down dive. "Plummet head first into darkness?" I asked myself. "I think not."

No, I far preferred the building next to the YMCA. It was Nichols library, and it housed untold adventure. What could be behind the gold link chain separating the Adult section from the Children's? How come only the librarians were permitted to climb the stairs to the balcony? What would happen to you if you dared to speak above a whisper? The answer to these questions were unknowable for a child.

Instead, I had to content myself with checking out books using my pink, cardboard library card, with a little metal disc inserted into the lower corner. The librarian would stamp it somehow, I don't recall the exact details, and she would use a little roller stamp with the correct date scrolled onto its bottom to mark the due date in little rectangles on the paper attached to the inside of the book's front cover.

Oh, the due date! Another detail in my childhood which escaped me. What was I to do when Toby Tyler and The Circus could not be found for months?! (Later it would appear, between my bedstead and the wall, in the darkest corner of my room.) How could I pay for the 5 cent daily accrual of fines, which in middle school became 10 cents? It was horribly embarrassing to ask my mother for the totals, admitting that I had been careless with borrowed property. Irresponsible about returning what wasn't mine when there was No Good Reason.

When I returned from teaching in Germany, our town had developed into such a place that there were actually bookstores now. (As well as a McDonald's!) Barnes and Noble, Borders and other small shops competed for my attention. "Fines?" I thought. "I may as well just buy the book outright." Which I did.

And then, there appeared e-readers. Nooks, to be specific. Now I didn't even need to leave my own home. I could install gift cards from the children in my class, peruse samples, and hit Buy Now whenever I wanted. It was luxury beyond compare...

I went to the library today. I was just curious if they had some of the books I want to read, some for the Venice in February Challenge: Venetian Betrayal by Steven Berry, The Potter's Field by Andrea Camilleri, even a new Penny Vincenzi novel. What do you know? They did! They had the books I wanted! For free!

I sat in the depth of a library armchair, with afternoon sun streaming on my book's page, and I sniffed. I'd forgotten the scent of the paper. The feel of the binding loosened from the book's previous readers. The crackle of the protective plastic cover. I'd forgotten the almost holy quietness which pervades most libraries. Ah, it was heaven.

If only I can remember to return them in time.

23 comments:

  1. I love my library so much. I'm still thrilled to go in there and pick out an armful of book and bring them home free of charge. I don't always get them back on time either but I just figure my overdue fees are my way of giving a little bit extra to the library :)

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  2. the instant gratification of the e-book is difficult to resist, but the free price of the library is so nice too.

    I have many happy library memories from my childhood too...

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  3. I loved this post and thining back to my childhood visits to the library, the summer reading programs etc.

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  4. Loved it then, couldn't do without it now. (But the sit-down dive???? I'm not even sure what it is, but I have the wobblies just thinking about it.

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  5. I miss having a "like" button. :)

    I just found the checkout pocket from my book "Blow a Wild Bugle for Catfish Bend", which in sixth grade was part of our class's DIY library -- we all brought books in to share with our classmates, and got them back at the end of the year. I see my friend Jodi checked it out toward the end of the school year, must have been 1973... I guess it fell out of the book when I reshelved it recently.

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  6. Also, one of my favorite Bloom County cartoons ever:
    http://www.freethought-forum.com/livius/librarian.jpg

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  7. Lovely post! I wish I had felt the same about our libraries...

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  8. I loved your post! I wish I had had a similar relationship with my library, but I didn't. I only ever went to the library in grad school and even then it wasn't that often. I was much more of the I'd rather own the book than borrow it mindset - I'm still that way. Although I have been thinking about visiting the local library and checking it out, so who knows what will happen then.

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  9. Lovely, lovely post, Bellezza! While I am just as wired as "the next guy", libraries are sanctuaries that connect us to the past in a rich and unique way.

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  10. I was the world's most conscientous library goer - I always borrowed the maximum number of books, and still managed to finish them too early, was never overdue, never lost a single one, was never fined... Until I had children of my own and wanted to introduce them to the delights of a library. Since then we have lost countless books (found later behind wardrobes when we cleared the house to move abroad), keep renewing books that I still don't manage to finish, and live in a perpetual state of 'being overdue'. Still love nosing around in libraries though - and the serendipity of finding something other than what you were looking for.

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  11. There really is nothing like a real library. I've had the privilege of reading in some wonderful ones; Victorian mansions, tiny rooms with wooden floors and large curtainless windows, and a large room over my grandpa's barber shop whose scuffed, wooden floors creaked as you walked across them. Books should always be paired with wooden floors and very tall, wavy-glass windows.

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  12. I do like the last poetic paragraph of your post. Love the scent of paper!

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  13. My local Libraries were my hidden bases from which I could venture out to explore a multitude of worlds. My local libraries were where I went when school & I realised we would never see eye to eye, the library system then became my teacher, my chariot even my native guide showing me those secret paths through the foreign territories I was increasingly traversing. My Local libraries Never judged my choices but would offer alternative opinions for me to explore & then allow me to make up my own mind.

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  14. What a gorgeous building! My old town library was nowhere near as glamourous as that, but I do recall the fascination of the adult section. I could not understand why books were filed by author rather than title. Why would an author's name tell you more about a book than the title did? Ah the glorious days of innocence! Thank you for a lovely post.

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  15. Wonderful post! It is too long since I have visited the library...I tell myself I have a library of my own at home in the form of my ever-increasing TBR stash. But I do feel a guilty compulsion to support my local library, particularly as many library services in the UK are threatened with closure. I think you just persuaded me to drop by this weekend.

    Marie
    http://www.girlvsbookshelf.blogspot.com

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  16. I tend to give more than borrow from my library at the moment (a big contrast to my younger years and perhaps, my very old years). Libraries are always good at getting just the books you want.
    (McDonalds are the sign of a Big Town in Australia!)

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  17. Those were the days.
    When I was in high school I found a teacher's workbook for teaching algebra which I used to teach myself algebra in addition to my teacher's guidance.
    And I also found a yearbook copy of Chess Life which helped me improved my game.

    Today library serves the same purpose with tech augmentation.

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  18. The best part of my formal academic training was the library. I loved nothing more than finding an old carrel up on a 3rd or 4th floor, back in the stacks where the knowledge became the smell of dust, leather bindings, paper and industrial floor cleaner.

    There's nothing better than a couple of hours of concentration followed by a head-on-the-desk nap, then gathering up the books and departing into the night, certain that something had been accomplished!

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  19. Great minds think alike! I haven't set foot in my neighborhood library (we have 6 branches in our community!) for months. Maybe even a year. But last Monday I set out in search of a book that I'm reading with my granddaughter. We formed a little book club last summer and it was her turn to have the book we bought, so I needed to borrow a copy. I found the book then wandered over to the New Release shelves. Last month's reading "goal" was to focus on the books in my house that have been on my shelves since we lived in Texas (almost 13 years ago!). As I stood before all those lovely books in my library, I decided February's focus would be to read nothing but borrowed books. I came home with an armload and am almost finished with the first. We head to the mountains later this week and I hope to get a lot of reading time in between hiking and snowshoeing. We won't have internet access which is more a blessing than a curse. I'm actually hoping we don't have much snow so I can stay inside and read!

    BTW, I'm sure there's some sort of an app that you can download to your Nook to remind you of your due dates. :)

    Happy Reading!

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  20. We have a cute little library about two blocks from us. I love taking my little guy there often and then carving out some time myself to escape with my list of books to pick up.

    Our library has online accounts, so they send me an email when things are due or when my requested books are in. Maybe your library has something similar?

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  21. What a delightful post! Glad you've rediscover the sweet aroma of paper. I go to the public library a few times a week. It is the source for not just books, but movies. So with the demise of BlockBusters, I've gone to the library even more, and be even more gratified. Why, no need to pay for rentals. Our annual library card fee is $12, but I know I've got all that back within the first weeks into the year.

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  22. This was delicious! What a treat....may you find more treasures in the walls of your library soon!

    PS...one of our favorite stories with our kids was when our son got his first (and only) overdue library notice in the mail when he was 10. I so remember how his face blanched when he saw the total - - $900.000.00!!!!! It seems the library system had totaled all the fines in the county and sent him the bill!! He was seriously worried that he would have to pay the bill. When we went to the library to 'settle' up they asked to keep the copy of the notice. We allowed them to make a copy of it but we kept the original in his baby book! That 33 year old still talks about it. :)

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  23. Loved reading this and what a gorgeous library. I don't head to the library very often because of the fines--when I was in high school I failed return Joy Luck Club on time and they eventually revoked my card (I know, I know). I never did finish the book...

    Now that Elle is starting to get into picture books rather than her board books I should make more of an effort to head to our library. Sometimes just being around ALL OF THOSE BOOKS can do wonders for the soul, huh??

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