Open, Sesame…er, Library

“Open! Open! Open!” Unknown little girl waiting impatiently for the library to open. A queue of adults waiting patiently to go inside.

Libraries aren’t caves occupied by hoarding dragons or forty thieves, but they are full of treasures, which probably include the collection of stories, One Thousand and One Nights, which includes the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and their hidden loot.

One of the things I’ve missed most during the pandemic when we’ve cocooned at home to stay safe is going to the library. I’m stuck reading books I already own. I miss the allure of the new. I miss browsing the stacks. I miss the physical space of libraries, being surrounded by books, books, and more books.

I used to have an e-reader. I sold it. I can and do read on my computer. I prefer turning actual paper pages, the aroma, and the heft of a book. The texture of the paper. As it is, I already spend too much time on my computer. And I constantly come up with new reasons to go online, including writing this blog.

My wallet contains cards for three different library systems, city, county, and neighboring county. As an alumna, I also have access to my university library. I can’t remember the last time I visited any of them. The cards are cold and lonely. The city library system now offers curbside pickup for books selected online and reserved. I haven’t done so. It’s not the same.

Breaking a lifelong habit, even if I wanted to, isn’t easy. Libraries have been part of my life since grade school. When I was in kindergarten, my family and I lived within a couple of blocks of a city library branch. My father and I would walk there together. When we moved farther away, he would drive me there and we’d both browse. In those days there were two different library cards, a blue one for adults and a yellow one for children. My father always let me use his blue card, so I could check out books not available to kids.

In elementary school, I was a library girl performing the duties of a library aide, checking out books and shelving returned ones and new ones. In my senior year in high school, I was chairman of the library committee. I got to spend one period each day behind the counter, in the library office, or in the magazine room. As an adult, I’ve worked for both the city and county library systems and volunteered in the library of our art museum.

Is it any wonder I miss libraries? Waiting, waiting, waiting for those magical doors to open again so I can get to the treasures inside.

Pundits keep predicting the demise of libraries. Probably the same folks who keep predicting the demise of real books. But libraries and books, in the form of scrolls, have been around for more than two thousand years. Even though I’m no pundit, I expect they’ll be around for a couple thousand more years, even as new technology emerges. An implanted chip to which information can be downloaded directly into my brain? Glasses which let me read as I walk? No thanks!

Book sales! Another thing I miss about the library–Friends of the Library book sales. It’s not that I need more books…but who can resist a paperback novel for only thirty-five cents? Or a beautifully bound little copy of Stephen Crane’s, The Red Badge of Courage, printed in English in Germany or Washington Irving’s, Tales of the Alhambra, printed in English in Spain, with gorgeous engraved, period illustrations. Some books are so beautiful, I have to have them, whether I intend to read them or not.

 For one of the historical novels, I needed to research the Civil War. I could probably have made do with one volume, but it’s a good excuse to buy several, chasing after elusive little known facts, which I may not include in my novel, but which I enjoy knowing anyway.

I like learning things. I have book-greed. A home full of treasured volumes.

Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound. While an undergraduate, I spent a great deal of time on the top floor where English Lit. books are kept. The chiming of the carillon in the chapel reminded me when it was time to get to my next class. I still go there from time to time. It’s great. In normal time the library is open until one a.m. It’s the only late night, sometimes all-night, library in town.
The public library in Puyallup, Washington. The pleasant square in front is the site of the weekly farmers market. Before going to the market, I visit the Friends of the Library room. The magazines are free! Or at least they were, the last time I was there.

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