“Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines — it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.”
― Robin Sloan Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
This week is National Library Week and in honor of the place that holds our most treasured possession, books, we thought we’d share one writer’s memories of why libraries are magical.
I have always been captivated by libraries. When I went away to college, getting a library card was at the top of my to-do list. When I went to D.C. I had to go to The Library of Congress. They wouldn’t let me touch the books, but it was OK because I knew they were safe. On a recent work trip to Boston our cab drove past the Boston Public Library. I got excited and my boss turned to me and said, “Really? The library?” My answer was an emphatic ,“Yes.”
I love seeing books at rest. I love the camaraderie between those browsing the shelves. I love checking out their used books section and finding a book I didn’t even know I was missing. I love finding two-story libraries, and beautiful libraries full of local art or meeting groups of kids or adults coming together to share a favorite story.
I have learned to see the beauty in the worn and long-loved copies in the library. They weren’t beaten up, they were demolished. People came to the library thirsting for knowledge, and they devoured the books they found. Libraries should be cared for. They are the keepers of incredible worlds and stories. They hold all our history, culture, and knowledge. I found hope between the pages of stories. Hope that we were not doomed to ignorance or to repeat the mistakes of our forefathers.
I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t a card-carrying member of the library fan club. I clearly remember one trip to the local library after we moved. I remember getting my card in my grubby hands and asking my mom, “How many books can I get with this?” Her response was never enough. I remember the feeling of shame when I failed to return books on time, and my promise to myself to make sure someone else has the chance to read the book.
I have always found solace in an empty sanctuary. I love the quiet, the stillness found as I sit in the pews after the singing has stopped and no one can see me worship. There is a peace in feeling alone but not being alone. I have only found this feeling in one other place: the library.
As a child, it was a bright and colorful place. Full of pictures and small books that fit well in my hands. Often there was a play area or jungle gym to climb. Events and parties at the library were just a place to meet friends and get your face painted.
As a teen, the library was a haven. When the world was too loud or harsh I could find the magic in stories. The library was where the dragons lived and people learned about life. I could read any section unencumbered and I disliked more books than I loved, but it was special. There was a stillness to be found in the stacks of books read by hundreds of people before me. I found a safe place where I could like anything, live in any time, and conquer any foes.
In college, libraries were giants placed all over campus. They were imposing beautiful buildings that demanded to be entered. Some were loud with printers, coffee makers, people meeting to work on projects, or just a resting point to gab with friends before class. I prided myself by finding one campus library that offered the safety and beauty I had come to desire from libraries.
As I got older I prided myself on buying my books. I wanted the library from “Beauty and the Beast,” and I was determined to make it happen. I wanted to have the feeling of a library in my own home (I still hope to get so many books I need a ladder). I have surrounded myself with classics and favorites, but I forgot what the library was best at. It got me out of my comfort zone. I didn’t go back to the books I’d already read. I found new sections and authors to spend my time with. My time spent in a library has been some of the best times of my life. I will continue searching for and finding the magic that is only found in a library.
Spread your love for libraries with the #NationalLibraryWeek and tell us your best memory.
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