Thus, all libraries are acts of faith—faith that coming generations will make use of the contents of those libraries.
—Stuart A. P. Murray, The Library
Not only did I get to have lunch with Terri in Bowling Green on Tuesday, I got to visit the Maumee Library.
Terri and I were ‘raisin-ups’ together in the Miss Grape Festival pageant, oh, yea, these many years ago. We shared quite a few other adventures, too, before Terri went away to Ohio for college. Our lives danced us in very different directions for a while, but now, serendipity strikes: we are both Ohio residents and we are re-connected by Facebook.
Lunch at the Easy Street Cafe, with its wood and tin and gleaming bar and good pub food, and with rich, good talk with Terri, was a delight. And so was my visit to the Maumee Library.
When I arrived, a little early for my meeting with the gracious branch manager, Tony Schafer, kids were there. It was the first day to sign up for the summer reading program–this year’s theme, in Ohio, is ‘Heroes’–and there were joyful kids of many ages, shapes, and decibel levels doing just that. Those kids have wonderful spaces to meet in; the children’s areas of the Maumee Library are add-ons to the original Carnegie-built structure. Light poured in through tall, wide windows–it beamed not just on the children, but on twenty-somethings browsing DVD’s, on a pair of retirees ensconced in cozy chairs in the periodicals section, and on a collection of people at broad tables, newspapers spread out before them.
Something was taking place in the auditorium; people were lost in books in the Reading Garden; a mom and two leggy girls pulled up and locked their bikes before heading for the young readers’ shelves. The place hummed with positive energy.
Tony shared some of the site’s history. The library is built on the very place where Dudley’s Massacre took place in the War of 1812. US troops–under the lead of Dudley,– thought they were routing the British. They surged in to apply the finishing touches to that particular engagement–and found themselves the victims of a trap. Hundreds of United States soldiers died on that field.
But that doesn’t really surprise me. I’ve known since I was very young that libraries are magical places.
My mother often walked to the Darwin R. Barker Library with my younger brother and me when we were very young. I loved browsing the books, coming home with a nice stack of picture books stuffed into my brother’s stroller. I couldn’t wait to be seven and have my own library card.
When that great day dawned, I started in shock and awe at the card I’d been issued. My patron number was 321. My Brownie Troop number was 312! The very same numbers, ever-so-slightly jumbled. You couldn’t tell me that wasn’t pretty darned mystical.
At the Barker Library, Mom bought me a copy of Mrs. Mike for a quarter, a find from the retired book shelves. Katherine Mary was an adventurous red-haired Boston girl; I plummeted into her world, devouring even the sad, sad parts of her story. Mrs. Mike became a lifelong book friend.
We moved. At the Dunkirk Free Library, whose entrance was reached by a set of steep stone stairs, the shelves seemed to soar to the ceiling. En route to something else, I discovered William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker. It was the first play I ever read, and its images burrowed deep. I still suffer with Annie as she fears for her younger brother in the work house.
The Dunkirk Free Library offered up such treasures as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and To Kill a Mockingbird. It provided a calm and quiet refuge, too, during some turbulent teen times.
In college, I worked at the campus library. Shelving books, I discovered the writing of Herman Wouk. I started with Marjorie Morningstar and read right through, finding his work a wonderful counterpoint to the required reading of an English major. I must have been responsible for the alphabet’s end of the shelving areas, for I also found Leon Uris’s work there. Soon, my dad was reading Wouk and Uris with me–sometimes, we were both reading the same volume at once: this often involved two bookmarks and stealthy maneuvers to grab the book first and retreat.
Some of Uris’s and Wouk’s books were set in World War II, and for the first time, my father talked to me about his experiences in the War–about the awful food, about the steadfast friends, about the horror of learning that his darling baby girl, Sharon, my parents’ firstborn, had died at 18 months of encephalitis. He never talked to me about the fighting–he once asserted that those who had seen fighting seldom spoke of it. But the rich conversations engendered by our shared reading began to create, for me, a picture of what his life overseas had been like. Another magical gift of a library.
As the mother of young boys, the library was a place for me to find story time and play time and wonderful treasures–books and books with tapes, movies and music. I took Jim to the Mayville Library so often when he was a toddler that they finally hired me to do children’s programming. We created our own summer theme–“The Magic Schoolbus.” The school drove a bus up for us on those magical meeting days; local celebrities–teachers, doctors, police officers– came and did read-alouds with a wonderful bunch of kids. Community magic, that was.
In libraries in Ohio, in Ada and in Bluffton, young James and I made the acquaintance of writers like Margaret Mahy and Brian Jacques. I discovered Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles mysteries, which led me to some of Wittig Albert’s nonfiction, too. Again for a quarter, we picked up a VHS copy of Fawlty Towers from an Ada retired materials sale. We watched that video, I would conservatively estimate, 200 times, — a bit more spell-binding taking place.
In high school, Jim encountered a great young adult librarian, Cordelia, at the Mount Vernon Library, and he became part of a warm group of creative and offbeat kids who encouraged and supported each other. It was a welcoming community at a time when Jim, after many moves and much upheaval, was feeling adrift.
I discovered a treasure trove of books on tape and DVD at Mount Vernon, and I discovered that Barbara Rosenblatt was a wonderful reader who could make even a mundane book sparkle. Rosenblatt, as Amelia Peabody, enlivened my commute for months.
We should have known the library had magic to offer, enchantment to share.
Today, James and I are ‘Friends’ at the John McIntire Library, and we get to work their ‘Buck-a-Bag’ Book Sales two or three times a year. We get to see people who are excited about reading, about taking home bags of hardcovers, paperbacks, books on DVD. They come back to the next sale, donating those first treasures back to the Friends, making room for more. Their children’s faces light up as they search. Magic, magic, magic.
Maumee’s branch manager, Tony Schafer, sees no diminishing of numbers of library patrons, although he sees changes in the kinds of things patrons need. Many people come in to use the Internet now, he says; many download ebooks onto their Kindles or IPads.
But the people with whom Tony works, and the people we see at the Buck-A-Bag sales, are proof that those who bemoan the passing of hard-copy books are way premature in their panic. The allure of a book held in the hands, of pages turned–allowing a little bit of flipping back to chase a thought or a quote or a passage that begs to be read once again–still draws readers into its thrall. And the library is the place where that allure is housed, squaring and cubing itself, luring us–the lucky us who wander into that portal–into its spell.
I walk into the library, and I am lost in other worlds for hours. It has happened to me this way for years, and, I expect, it will continue to happen as long as faculties and eyesight cooperate.
The library houses treasures, tempts people inside, and then laughingly affirms that all those resources are there to be shared, for free and for all. The latch-key kids, the homeless guy, the four-year-old who taught herself to read–all are equally susceptible to the library’s generous spell.
What a wonderful thing, yet I often forget just how wonderful. I guess even magic can seem commonplace when it’s available all the time. It was nice to leave the known and familiar this week and to visit another library, a faraway library, and to remember, in its new and amazing spaces, just how magical a place a library really is.