This post has been in drafts for a very long time. I started it after reading Scalzi’s Personal History of Libraries and started considering my own history. Libraries have often been the gateways to wonder for me, so it’s not surprising that I wanted to write a post like this one.
My earliest memory of a library was at Southeast Primary School. I’m fairly certain we were first graders. I remember our tour of the library and the shelves and shelves of books that were dedicated to our reading level. I am sure that this memory itself is a composite of many others.
My mom was a reader, so she would have taken me to the Reed Memorial Library in Ravenna at a very early age, as well. I remember that colorful first-floor room because I remember when I was allowed to graduate from it, traipsing up the staircase lined in brown rubber treads that always looked like Hershey bars to me. I still remember the fake sweet smell of the stairs at that library.
More than the kids’ section of Reed, I remembered the bookmobile. The Bookmobile was magical. It showed up and parked at the post office mostly during the summer, when the school library was unavailable. It was air conditioned, book -filled magic. I joke about being a book-sniffer, but if there is a starting point to my desire to inhale the pages of books, it is inside the Bookmobile. Mom turned to the left, I turned to the right. She picked out novels. I picked out children’s books. We checked them out using county library cards, and the driver had one of those stamps just like a real librarian.
We lived out in the country. A bus full of books that comes to you in the middle of the summer was about as magical as spotting a rainbow or watching tadpoles transform into frogs.
The Southeast Middle School Library was connected to the Primary School one. The library itself was central to the shared building like a saddle across the two schools. I don’t remember hunting down new books there very often, though I do have clear memories of playing on the computers and using the reference section to complete reports.
I think I strayed from the school library because that was right around the time the Newton Falls library was built. It was new. I remember it smelled like paint and carpet glue for a long time before it settled into a good bookish scent. I can still feel the smooth glide of new card catalogue drawers and the freshly typed cards that weren’t yet worn soft around the edges from hundreds of fingers. It was closer than any of the other libraries – I could ride my bike there. It was newer, and it had newer, more interesting books! I was in love.
I remember during this time period, and through high school, I would vary my library trips between Newton Falls and Reed Memorial. Newton Falls had better fiction. Reed had better reference.
The High School Library? Well…. it was pretty sparse for someone as bookish as I was. It was fine for a quick classic, and I spent every spare study hall there, passing notes with friends and finishing homework. But honestly, I remember checking out fewer than a dozen books. It was a comfortable location that included play rehearsals and meetings, not a place I sought out books.
We lived near big colleges, and I am certain I had to resort to their libraries on occasion, but I have no clear distinct memories of doing so. How odd. The next library in my historical chronology is from Sweet Briar.
If Newton Falls library was interesting because of its newness, the Sweet Briar Cochran Library was entrancing because of its beauty and age. The building itself had gravitas. It was a safe place, a studious place, a place filled to the brim with books.
The fiction was mostly located in my very favorite room in the place: the Browsing Room.
This was my study spot. I liked to put a series of Mozart CDs in the 5 -disc changer and read in here. I escaped into this room when I just needed a quiet place. I played “How to Host a Murder Mystery” with friends during a winter black out and snowstorm. When I dream about having a real “library” or an office of my own, the Browsing Room is my ideal.
The Cochran library wasn’t just the browsing room though, there was the stone spiral stair case, the main gallery filled with light and tables and reference books, that’s where the computers were (there was no card catalogue here). There were the stacks in floors below the main. The rare books room. God, every tiny nook of this library was a delight to me. There were fun rooms that were used as classrooms that looked like boardrooms.
I could go into rapturous delight explaining this library. I made Brett see this place as a very important personal landmark when we visited the campus a few years ago.
The most important room at this library? The section of books written by college alumnae. Seeing my book there is one of those secret, personal goals.
In addition to the SBC main library, I remember my junior year another very special library that I was able to explore. I did a J-term project where I got to plunder the depths of the George C Marshall Library. This is a library on the campus of Virginia Military Institute that is all about post WW2 and the Marshall plan. I was an International Affairs major, so this was all very fascinating to me. The cool thing about this library was that it was mostly original source material. The library needed help with the sorting and sifting and making sense of what information was available, so they got college kids to write scholarly papers using the primary source stuff as resources. The paper gets added to the library, and a little bit of that rich material is summarized.
What I learned was that this was much like digging through the attics of some impressive and cool people. I learned that everything is stored in temperature, air-pressure and humidity controlled vaults. And I learned that culling usable information from primary sources is really freaking difficult. I was looking up a fellow named Butterworth, he was an impressive diplomat. I liked his work in China.
I never finished that paper.
Following college, my library visits have been brief, disloyal, scattered. I’ve visited the libraries all over the Atlanta metro area. I’ve voted there. I’ve renewed my library card. My favorite is the big huge Fulton County library on Peachtree Street next door to the Macy’s building. It smells right.
I actually have a Unit in my Corps in the world of Salvaged that works with libraries. I have characters whose job it is to salvage knowledge. To learn from the past. I might even let a Cultural Salvage Corpsman – perhaps in book 2 – undertake that primary-resource challenge that I experienced at the Marshall museum.
Libraries are where we learn from the past to keep from repeating history’s mistakes. Books are where we learn, escape, discover and delve. I wouldn’t be me without them.