I got a new library card the day before yesterday. This one is for the Chatham County Libraries. I can add it to my collection of North Carolina library cards: one each for Guilford County, Forsyth County, Wake County and Durham County. I also have cards from Jackson County, Oregon, from when I lived in Ashland, from Putnam County, Illinois, from when I lived in Granville, and the granddaddy of them all, my card from the Chicago Public Library.
It’s like a little history of where I’ve lived, all those little cards in the drawer. The only ones missing are from Pensacola, Florida (I know I had one; maybe it will turn up) and from Winthrop, Massachusetts. Winthrop, just outside of Boston where I only lived a few months, may be the only place I ever lived where I didn’t get a library card.
Libraries have always been important to me. I have loved books for as long as I can remember. We read books, but I don’t remember being a household that bought all that many books. Books were expensive. We went to the library a lot. For a time, when I was quite small, a bookmobile would stop on our street. Book delivery! I thought it was wonderful. Our elementary school classrooms each had its own little library, two shelves of age-appropriate books, mostly lives of the saints. I’d read them all. Dad would drive us to the big library on Kedzie Avenue, and we’d return with armloads of books. When I was older, we could walk the mile and a half to the smaller branch across from the high school.
In those days–I don’t know if they still do it–children’s library cards had restrictions on them. We could only check out books from certain sections. I remember a parent would have to come with me if I wanted to get a book from the Adult section, to assure the librarian that I had their permission to it check out. Oh, the power, oh, the excitement I felt to go into the stacks of the adult section! The books were harder, but there were more of them, and I never knew what treasures I might find.
I’ve always relied on books. They have been my entertainment and my comfort. Whenever I’ve been ill or depressed, I have reached for books, armloads and armloads of them. Mystery stories are especially good when I’m down. I think it is the idea that complex problems can be solved, the wrongdoers can be brought to their just rewards, that brings me comfort. Isaac used to reach for The Lord of the Rings when he was ill. He read it again during his last illness; we were reading The Hobbit aloud to him at the end, until he was too ill even to concentrate on that. I left it unfinished; I think I will have to finish it soon for myself.
I’m even writing this in a library. The Pittsboro branch has a new building, not even completely finished yet, on the campus of the Central Carolina Community College. It’s beautiful, with a soaring ceiling, walls of windows, a huge computer lab, and lots of cozy seating. There are power outlets built into most of the tables, so I can perch with my laptop, use the wireless, and enjoy the peace and power of being surrounded by books.
The day before yesterday, I checked out three books. I’ll return two today; the only reason I haven’t finished the third is that I am insisting to myself that I do some writing as well as reading. But I will check out a couple of more today, too. That half-a-book left won’t last me long.
When I hear of so many libraries being forced to close for budget reasons, it chills me. Books are our treasures, our gifts to each other and to those who come after us. Few children will curl up under the blankets with an e-reader. Fewer still could afford one. But a book! A library book! One that’s gone from hand to hand, one that a parent passes to a child, or a friend to a friend, one among thousands I could not hope to own but can get, anytime from the library, to lose our libraries would be a sad, sad loss for us all.
Now, as I push myself to write, I remember myself as a little girl. That little girl reading books could not imagine a better thing to be than someone who wrote books. Now I know how very hard that is to do, and how even harder it is to do well. But I still cannot imagine a better thing to be. I hope the libraries will still be around to hold my books.