When I was little and tried to imagine what heaven looked like, it looked an awful lot like the main branch of my county library.
Our main branch is situated right in the middle of the downtown-university area, nowhere near where we lived at the time, so getting to it was a pain, parking was a pain, and timing was everything. Despite that, Mom made sure we got there as often as we could- as often as I’d been good- especially when school was out. At the tender age of five and a half, I knew that place like the back of my hand and could find any book I wanted, even if it wasn’t in the kids’ section. When I checked out books, it wasn’t one or two, it was a STACK, and I’d have them all read within a week.
A couple of years later, we hit a bit of a snag with our summer arrangements. My brothers were old enough enough to stay home unsupervised, so technically they were old enough to babysit me, but that would have been cruel and unusual punishment for all involved and very likely to end in tears and bruises for multiple parties. My brothers and I didn’t really get along all that well at that age. My grandparents were talking about moving down, but they hadn’t yet, and we couldn’t really afford daycare (one of the reasons we went to the library rather than the bookstore). So, bright and early one Saturday morning, my mom and I got in the car and toddled down to the library to talk to the head librarian. I remember nothing about her, because I’m pretty sure that was the only time I ever met her, but at the end of the meeting, we had a rather bizarre little arrangement worked out on a probationary basis.
Librarians are not, in fact, babysitters- as far too many parents assume- but some of the librarians were familiar enough with me to vouch for my habits and behavior, so the head librarian gave my mother permission to let me stay in the library during the weekdays without direct adult supervision. The slightest inconvenience, the slightest sign of misbehavior, that permission would be revoked. (During this meeting, I went down to the kids’ section, pulled two books, read them completely, toddled back down and put them exactly where they belonged on the shelves)
Monday was the big trial. As soon as the library was open, my mom dropped me off with my backpack (which had some coloring books and crayons in case I needed a break from reading, as well as one of the stuffed animals I loved to read with/to), five dollars for lunch, and two sheets with names and phone numbers on them, one for me and one to keep with the librarians at the kids’ circulation desk. I found a comfortable chair in a sunny spot (I’m rather like a cat that way), staked my claim with my backpack, and wandered off to round up a good selection of books for the morning. I read, I played quietly with some of the younger kids as their parents looked through books, read out loud to some who weren’t old enough to manage on their own, and when I got hungry, I put away my books, told the volunteer at the kids’ desk that I’d be back, and left the library for lunch. Before anyone gets too scared, there was a Subway right across the street, so it wasn’t like I was wandering around downtown. Then, after I’d eaten, I came back and repeated the routine for the afternoon. When my mom came to pick me up, I picked another few books to check out, we went home, and the whole thing had been such a success we repeated it for a large part of the summer.
I got to know every librarian and they’d give me suggestions for books to try next, or- and this got me really excited- ask me what I thought some of the other kids should read. I’d help with the reshelve carts and the decorations, and help with the storytimes, and I loved it. All of it.
Why am I telling you this?
Libraries have a lot of love to give, but they need love in return, and in the wake of Hurricane Irene, there are some that need extra love right now.
Kate Messner posted a blog with pictures from a small library in Upper Jay, New York whose children’s section has been completely ruined by flooding from Irene, and it’s far from the only library so devestated. I dare you to look at those mountains of ruined books and not choke up a little. For this area and others, the libraries are the only way some kids get access to books, especially now with schools equally damaged or hard to access.
If you love your libraries, your librarians, your kids, your readers, if you love anything about putting a book into someone’s hands, share that love.
Kate’s blog has a list of contacts and info for some of the libraries she knows of that need special help right now, but you can search out other libraries in the northeast that have also been hit. Most of them are asking for checks at this point, given the severe limitations on dry storage space for packages, but some are also working with local bookstores to allow people to purchase books through the store and the store will not only keep track of what’s been purchased and what’s still needed, but also hold the books there until the library is repaired and ready to receive them.
We live in a time when money is extremely tight, but even five or ten dollars can help restore these libraries, one book at a time.
When you share the love, it isn’t just the libraries you’re helping; you’re also helping all the kids like us, the ones who are starting off on a lifetime love affair with reading, the future writers, the future agents and editors and publishers. You’re helping an entire generation fall in love with books.
So please, if you can, share the love.
Until next time~