Monday, January 7, 2013

Lessons From the Library - Week 2

In the town where I lived as a child the library was like a distant and inaccessible temple to some exotic god. My parents had been raised in places where libraries were rare and only a few people had more than a book or two in their homes. They had been raised in times where there was a severe awareness of class and status in America. Libraries, like many other public services, were seen as something for the upper class. They were clubs for the privileged, the educated, and the socially elite. 

I had seen the old Carnegie building in town and it was pointed out the way someone pointed out an office building or some other place of no import to our life. 

In grade school, the library was a shelf in each class and I enjoyed that.  I read through most of the shelves.  It was in 3rd grade that I learned our class was going on a field trip to the library.  We walked the four blocks to the library and entered the library by climbing the many stone steps to the glass fronted doors between two Greek columns.  As we entered, our steps echoing loudly in the vaulted room filled with skyscraper height bookshelves of glossy oak.  It was like church and our voices lowered to whispers.  All the impressions I had picked up from people seemed justified. This place was special. Was I worthy? Would they run us out for not being smart enough? For not having good clothes?  For not coming from the rich houses in town? As I expected, we were not allowed to linger in those rarefied realms but were led to a small staircase and descended into the 'children's room'.  

That space featured a couple of large windows looking out over the street, bright glossy shelves, and walls a soft yellow.  It was like school with colorful pictures, toys, and small chairs and tables.  Strange words "fiction", "check-out" and other alien terms begged understanding.  Along the shelves, were some familiar books from school but so many, many others.  The only place to buy books in town was a tiny corner shelf in the office supply downtown. This place held more books than the whole office supply store could hold.

I learned that day that anyone - anyone - could get a library card.  A library was the great equalizer of social groups. The walls of class, social status, education crumbled at my feet.   I did not realize this at that time, but would later. At that time, with a look of a sugar fiend lost in a candy factory, I just carefully stepped over that rubble in my shiny Mary Jane's with the short ruffled socks.  

I was on my way - all because of a library.

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