A Love Letter to My First Library

You are not among the goliaths of mortar and lime, with shelves reaching to the heavens and sprawling networks of basements, filled with so completely that there may be more paper than building. There are not great works of art displayed in your halls, nor gold-framed paintings surrounded by marble statues and busts.

pullquote1You are modest, meager, and humble in your utilitarian design. Yet, there is a charm in you that all those great monuments seem to lack. An itch of discovery lingers on your shelves, flowing from the front door to the far back, where a castle of children’s books protects minds eager to feast on fancy and limitless dreams.

My first memories of you were traveling by bus from my school. In those days, I was more in my head than out of it, but you were the one place that I felt this was not only okay, but fully encouraged. The very first door led me to a large room painted with children in mind, murals of jungles and geometric, abstract landscapes filling my eyes with color.

There was a kind man there. I do not remember his name. But I remember feeling that he could only exist in this room, with his magic puppets and voice perfect for storytelling. Every week he delighted me and all of the others that had come to hear him of princes and princesses, wild beasts and characters with morals to tell, before passing on his knowledge with the care and tenderness of our grandfathers. I would make shadow puppets and finger puppet stages to delight myself and others with my own stories.

After the show, which was often the highlight of my week (topping my activities at the YMCA and in the wilds of my family’s backyard), I was allowed to roam freely through the rest of your walls, to draw my fingers over the often over-loved and flaky spines of laminated book covers. I outgrew the children’s section in a little over two years. The smell of ink and gloss and promise still fills my nose when I think about all of the pages of characters that ever feel as real as you and me. My dearest and oldest friends, The Missing Piece and the Wild Things often being the first recalled.

My favorite section to trawl after that was the fiction section. Not to read, specifically. My sister and I used to pretend that we were racing to find a magic spell by which to cure the incurable, or save the world from a dastardly foe encroaching on the sanctity of your literary walls. There was one day where our daring adventures once led us to the Romance section, and I earned the warning wag of a finger from your librarian, who noticed I’d become mesmerized by the bronze and glamor of your Harlequin books.

Choose Your Own Adventure and Goosebumps had earned permanent aisles in your house, and I was excited to realize that you actually had every book in both series, and even a few scatterings of Animorphs. Old VHS copies of Reading Rainbow, Wishbone and Children’s Circle (how many summer days did I spend watching those!) were my next obsessions, before the works of Jane Yolen brought me to the realm of fantasy and never let me go.

You did that, Library. You turned my fictions into realities, conjured love from mere words on a page. You rallied my heart and filled my head with dreams too dangerous to not attempt. You are, and always have been, a dearest treasure and memory to me.

Content originally suggested by and contributed on The Guardian Book Blog Witness Assignments.

5 thoughts on “A Love Letter to My First Library

  1. I think I outgrew the library too quickly. My library was the one at my school and, to a lesser extent, the one at my church. It didn’t take me long to go through everything they had of interest at which point I moved straight to “book store.” I quit liking the library after that because if I wanted a book, I -wanted- the book. Having to give it back was not my thing.

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  2. Alex, this post is such sweet music to my ears and eyes. Those first libraries of ours make such an impression on us–and I’ve walked into a few where I think the architect totally missed the boat on this one, and consequently, may have driven away hundreds if not thousands of potential life long readers by not creating a space as tempting and inviting as it possibly could be.
    Your love letter is gorgeous.
    I’d like a carbon copy to send to mine.


  3. What a beautiful homage, Alex! I remember my elementary school library–it was quite small, but I always found a book I enjoyed. And in college, when I had several hours between classes, I would go to the campus library and head downstairs, where all the old books were. I’d sit by the window in the sun and breathe in the scent of those yellowed pages, completing class assignments and feeling as though I were surrounded by old friends.


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