Thursday, April 18, 2013

In The Company of Books

I sank into the big, soft pillow, a pile of books by my side. Flipping through the pages with pudgy fingers, I'd pause as the brightly colored pictures captured my attention. There was an orange tabby cat in overalls holding a hammer and tool box, and another cat in the kitchen dressed in an apron—a teapot on the stove, a clock on the wall. I flipped the page and became lost in the word-picture world of Richard Scarry, one of my favorite books. Somewhere in the other part of the library, my mom was searching for her own books.

Later, when I was old enough, I earned the right to have my very own library card. I took great pride in the orange cardboard card with the metal clip on the bottom. I’d watch with fascination as the librarian, with practiced efficiency, pulled the card out of the pocket from the front of the book, ran ink over my library card imprinting my special number and deftly placed a due date card back in the pocket. After, I'd rub my fingers over the bumpy metal and smudge the blue ink on my fingertips. When I grew up, I wanted to be a librarian.

Sometime in my early adolescent years, at an awkward, insecure age, I spent a few weeks volunteering for the local library. My job that summer was to put little stickers on the binding of the books that identified them with their genre. I remember placing little stickers with a magnifying glass on rows of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. I couldn't resist opening them and reading a page or two as I put the sticker on. As a result, I doubt I was a very efficient worker. I know I checked out quite a few of those books that summer, dreaming of being the smart, athletic and popular Nancy and perhaps having a boyfriend like Frank or Joe Hardy.

My sticker job led me out of the young adult books and into the realm of nonfiction, just around the corner. I don't remember the picture on the stickers for this section, but I do remember picking up a book about a young mom working diligently with her son who was autistic, loving him towards an emotional and meaningful connection. I marveled at her love and devotion. Another book I picked up and read that summer was about a teacher in a classroom of children with special education needs. I studied the jacket cover, a black and white photo of a lovely, young teacher surrounded by the grinning faces of her students. I was inspired. I wanted to work with children with special needs when I grew up.

That summer, the imagination and ideas contained in books gripped me in a whole new way. I learned to love the musty, dusty smell of books, unique to libraries, and find solace and comfort in the rows and stacks of books. Growing up, I was seldom without a book, even earning reprimands from my mother for reading when we had company.

My educational experiences in college and grad school were marked by long, quiet hours of studying. I discovered that two hours near my research material, a large wooden library desk to spread books out on and hushed silence to be as productive as twice that time in any other setting. The atmosphere was still comforting, and the books still contained dreams and, now, the resources and information I needed to attain them.

In my mind, libraries are still one of the pillars of our culture. Our library in town is small but offers a plethora of community services and with their shelves stocked full of books, they still offer a quiet respite surrounded by that musty, dusty smell, and our librarians are always helpful and friendly and know me by name. 

Some things have changed. They scan barcodes now and use computers to check books out, and when I am searching a title or author, I no longer have to flip through long drawers of index cards; I can just look up what I need on the computer. But I still watch with admiration as a librarian restocks a shelf, checks in a stack of books or helps a patron with a search.

And just between you and me, I still dream of being a librarian when I grow up.

In honor of National Library Week, April 14-20 and with thanks to all the
 faithful librarians (especially those at the Gunnison County Library) 
who work for the love of the written word. 

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