When I was growing up, our town had a small library. It was a two-story building with the second story more or less the basement. The parking lot had about five spaces and if it was a busy time, you had to park on the street.
You walked down a ramp and into the building. To the left was the children's department and to the right was the small elevator and the narrows stairs leading to the adult area. The children's department was cramped, as I remember it. There were cinder block walls above the shelves of books.
The windows were small and too high for me to reach or see out of. But that wasn't the point. I didn't need to look out on East Main Street. I was there for books. My father would take almost any time I wanted to go and it always seemed to me that Mrs. P. was sitting behind the desk. She was the kind of person who made you feel as though the library was made for you.
She had suggestions on books and after a time would know what authors I liked best and would tell me when something new had come in. She introduced me to "Runaway Ralph." She stamped books with the return date and always had a smile. It stunned me then that she could be so happy working in a basement. I had not yet come to realize the thrill of sharing books. I was just learning the thrill of reading.
As I grew older I had to move to the upstairs to get my books and it never seemed as pleasant. The librarians seemed to me to be older and didn't smile nearly as much. I tended to use the school library more but always missed Mrs. P. I would stop in and say hello from time to time. As time went on a new library was built. It is a beautiful library. It is large and spacious, light pouring in from all directions. Mrs. P. is still there handing out smiles and books to a whole new generation, including my children.
For a time, we lived close to that library and I chose it over the large city library where we lived. The city library was close to our home but no one knew who I was and no one seemed interested in getting to know me or what I might like. \And even the children’s librarians looked rather annoyed when asked too many questions. So I would pack up my then 1-year-old son and drive a little farther and visit Mrs. P.
When we moved out to the country, the first place I went was the library. I fell in love. It is small, but open and light-filled and the librarians smiled and commented on the books or movies my young son picked out. It didn't take long for some of the librarians to call us by name when we came into the library.
It has been five years and the librarians know us by name, all three children now. One of those librarians reminds me of my friend Mrs. P. I had quite an overdue fine recently, which sadly is the norm, not the exception for me. I walked into the library and smiled at Mrs. L.
She smiled back and said,"What did you do now?" Relief flooded me because really I am always "doing something" that causes someone else to pick up my slack or help me along the way.
But when she said it, it was not with frustration but with that same smile she has given me and my children for the last five years. I have paid so many fines over the past five years I am pretty sure they could have put up a new wing by now. I have returned DVDs minus the DVD. I have insisted I returned something only to find it under a couch tucked in a dresser drawer.
So her smile was congenial and she knew she was in for a “story.” When I explained my dilemma of being unable to unearth four books my son had borrowed, she looked through the stacks and then renewed what she could and I paid the bill. On the way out she asked if my son had any more bags he might hide his books in.
I sighed and told her I had looked everywhere I could think of. On the way home though I had a thought. He has many bags and he likes to hoard books. There are books in his room, books in his back pack, books under his bed. So it gave me a thought to look under the back seat of our SUV, a place I really try not to frequent, and sure enough there were the books.
Librarians are special people. They are a public servant that most of us probably take for granted or may not even give much thought to what they do. Books transport us to new places, gives us a chance to live in someone else’s shoes. They give us history lessons and lessons of love and loss. Librarians are the portal to these worlds, sharing what they read and bringing new books for us to read and love.
They are a public servant most of us probably take for granted or may not even give much thought to what they do but for me my love of books grew out of a small basement and a special woman with a big smile and has remained because of the other special librarians I have found along the way.