Saved by a library

I would ask my mom if she needed the car. Since it was Saturday or Sunday afternoon, she didn’t usually mind. If I had some extra cash, I would stop and grab a soda and maybe a snack and drive to the small county library. 

I would tell my mom that the library’s large tables enabled me to spread out and catch up on my homework. I was only partly lying. Yes, I would eventually get to my homework, but I first had my routine. I would stake out my table, my territory for the day, and I would grab the Sunday newspapers from faraway cities and the latest news magazines.

Image by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels.

Big City dreams

The newspapers were often from the previous week, but I didn’t mind. I would pick up the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Washington Post and read them front page to the last page like my life depended on it. I dreamed of moving to Philly or the D.C. Metro area and working in the city. It was less about the news and more about knowing what was going on there, what I was missing.

I would spend the most time focused on Sports Illustrated. I wanted to be a sportswriter and loved their in-depth reporting and feature stories. I read the bigger feature stories twice, once for enjoyment, once to review the writing style and choices the writers made. I read closely to see what they focused on; how they set up and described a scene; and what tricks or plot points I wanted to mimic in the future. I would then move onto Time and Newsweek and then finally I would check to see what new books the library had purchased.

Then and only then, would I start in on my homework.

Heaven on Earth

Argentinian short story author Jose Luis Borges once said that he always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library. I think he was onto something. In fact, my idea of a great vacation would be to land in a Caribbean paradise, met by a resort concierge who offers to the left a cabana bar full of frosty drinks. Pina coladas anyone? And to the right a fully stacked library with cool air conditioning and the latest and greatest that would make the craziest bibliophile smile.

I spent hours in that little library. The library was small by most standards and it didn’t have the most up-to-date collection, but it kept me out of trouble. To steal a phrase my father used to use regularly, it kept me on the “straight and narrow.”

Image by Ron Lach via Pexels.

Changing times

I know libraries have changed in the decades since I was a kid. The internet has brought the library to the home, but they still have a deep purpose and mission. The civilization that turns its back on libraries will not stand for long. Toward that end, the American Library Association celebrates National Libraries Week in the U.S. later this month, from April 23-29.

I continue to read about communities censoring and banning certain books. In the most recent story I saw, a federal judge in Texas ruled that 12 books that had been removed from the Llano County Public Library had to be be placed back onto shelves. Library officials had removed the books because of LGBTQ and racial content.

I always laugh when I read stories about censorship and banning and small-minded people. Have these people not learned anything? Do they not understand how people learn and think? What do they think happens? “Oh, I’ve read a book about XYZ, now I have to worry about becoming XYZ?” Please, just stop this ridiculousness. The 16-year-old kid in me would’ve rebelled against these bans by doing the very thing the community leaders are trying to prevent. I would have sought out those books to make up my own mind.

Yes, the library taught me to challenge and to be comfortable with books and differences of opinion. A great library is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I consider myself fortunate because I had a library. Without one, I’m not sure where I might have landed!

52 thoughts on “Saved by a library

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  1. I love libraries and the highlight of touring colleges with my daughter was seeing libraries. My daughter also said she spent more time in the library than anu other building on campus.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for this tribute to libraries from a retired librarian. New-York Historical library was my favorite for books to catalog but I met my husband at Columbia libraries and devoured tge art books there.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Libraries can be the hub of a community- especially the smaller towns I think. Mine is in the funding process and planning. I’m excited to see it get started and how the final project comes out in the end. I too spent a lot of time as a kid inside the library and remember the joy of so many books. It was heaven!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ours is an extension of the county system so we get plugged into more opportunities for funding- at least about 1/2 versus a solo city having to fund the entire thing. I understand your concerns though Brian. I see a slow phaseout happening. Can’t imagine being a kid and not experiencing a real library but that’s likely the future 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this post Brian. As someone who works in a public library, I’m slightly biased, but it’s heartwarmingly awesome to hear the positive role a library played in your life.

    Your point about the attack on intellectual freedom is so right. There are so many discussions being had about it right now and it’s definitely one of the most urgent issues of the times.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Love libraries Ab! It might not look it, but my piece on “getting out” of the small community where I grew up and this piece are very much linked. And Yes, I just tweaked the surface of intellectual freedom. I really need to come back to it. I’m at a loss about some people’s’ thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this Brian. What a wonderful childhood shaped by your dreams and quest for knowledge. I agree, too, about book censorship – tell me I can’t do something, I’ll immediately want to do it. I do fear the impact of controlling learning. Trying to teach people to think in a set way. It’s very controlling and will probably backfire, but so much damage can be done in the interim. Of need be, I can smuggle them to you from the uk 😆

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Libraries are the best! My parents used to take me every Saturday as a kid. Then, when I could drive, I’d borrow a dozen at a time. I have so many fond memories.

    My sister works at a library, and though it pays peanuts, it sounds like such rewarding work to help people fall in love with reading, navigate an online job application, or discover a new book that aligns with their tastes. Thanks for sharing about National Libraries Week–I’ll have to send a “thank you” card by my local library. ☺️☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’ll have to disagree on this one John. I’m not going to tell you that I’ve done a lot of work reviewing the book titles, because I haven’t, but I don’t believe public institutions should be in the business of censorship. One book is on flatulence, another documents the shameful beginnings of the KKK, while a third is on one of the youngest publicly documented people to be identified as transgender. Others may be able to explain this better . . . but here’s what I believe: I may or may not agree with these topics . . . If I still had young kids, I may not even let my kids read these books, that’s my job as a parent, but censorship with a public library is wrong. Why should my beliefs control what you can or can not read? You may believe in something altogether different. I’ll take it one step further. I love baseball, I hate football (not the case, but you get the point.) For now on, all baseball books in the library will be given a prominent spot and deep funding, all football books will banned. How is that fair to anyone else? Simplistic to the nth degree, but it’s how I believe our system works at its best. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m so glad that you made me aware of National Library week. Love your story about going to the library on the weekend – what a wonderful first place of discovery! My local libraries are amazing for their range of services – from story time for little ones, to Internet for people without access. Just amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great story! I just recently became the head volunteer in our community library! It is a small space and no internet or computers, we have begun a children’s story time twice a week this year.
    I was thinking that would be a good experience to write about this year.


    1. Congratulations Donna. Sounds like you’re making your library a great place to be . . . that’s awesome. My love affair with reading started after a teacher read to us in class. It got me going to the library and kept me going years later. I’m glad my story touched you. Thanks for letting me know.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I’m with you. I better book now while I can. It get’s me thinking . . . What’s Library Hell? A loud, busy library with nowhere to sit? Not finding the book you want? A librarian who won’t let you check something out because you have a 99 cent late fee? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Your post reminds me of a story a librarian friend told me. In the small town library were she worked all the Adults Only books were kept behind the desk and a ID was required to check them out. Every few weeks an older lady would come in and check out one of the Adult books. Upon returning the book she always had the same comment,”That’s disgusting! Give me the next book on the shelf.” One would have to wonder if she was conducting her own review of the books or secretly enjoying them. I am always skeptical about the motivation of those who believe they should decide what books we are allowed to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s funny. Yes, I’m skeptical of the motivation too. I’m a big believer in parents parenting all they want, but don’t censor others because you have issues with a book or concept. I’d like to consider myself a christian too.


  9. I love this post, Brian! First, because I’m also a library lover since childhood. Second, because you once again put another celebration week on my radar, inspiring a future blog post. And finally, because you reminded me I forgot to include in my latest post that I just received my library card in Portugal! Life is better with libraries ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know if Library Week is a big week or not, but when I saw it, I couldn’t help but think about how much libraries have helped me. It’s cool that you’ve gotten your card. There’s a future story for you. Are libraries in Portugal like here in the U.S. Are there fewer or more of them? Is there a cost? I’m assuming the books are in Portuguese, right? You are so right, life is better with libraries. Anyway, loved your recent post on some of the lessons you’ve learned. Interesting stuff.


    1. The library post and the one I wrote recently about getting out of my small rural town are both very much intertwined. I suspect I would have never gotten out if I didn’t love the library and learning so much. The library allowed me to dive into areas of myself that might not have fit into the norm. Very grateful for the push they gave me.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Brian,
    we absolutely agree with you.
    Concerning censorship: We run a big open community bookshelves in our church (about 10.000 books) and we have to decide which books to present and which are going to charities or even in the bin. We are very aware that censorship is always subjective. We are against fascist books, books that glorify the war, and books that are trash. But the last point is very subjective and the hardest one. Sometimes we need longer discussions if we will present a certain book or not.
    Thanks and cheers
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. You are so right, censorship is subjective. I think a book is horrible, you think it’s fine. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? The simple way you present books in a library or bookstore is in a way censorship, forget about the decision on which ones you choose to include and ones you decide to pass up. In the US, the issues seems to come up every couple of years, as a way of trying to manipulate or manage another group of people. I just find it to be a slippery slope. If you censor one book, what’s to say another and another won’t be added. Thanks so much for joining the discussion.


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