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.
You 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.