Libraries. I love them. You go in, sign a piece of paper, and they let you take home books. For free. As many as you can carry. (And I can carry a lot.) How insane is that?
Not just books, either. CDs, DVDs, even art. Museum passes. Again, all for free. Show me your library, and I can tell you a lot about the priorities of your town (which is why the recent cutbacks to my city’s library are so upsetting, but that’s a whole other blog post). Everywhere I’ve lived, one of the first things I’ve done is run to my new library to sign up for my card. Sometimes, my kids and I will stop to check out a library we haven’t visited, just for fun (do we know how to live, or what??). And if we’re vacationing anywhere for more than a week, it’s a good bet that somehow, we’ll manage to work in a library visit.
But no matter how wonderful your library is, it can’t compare with the one I grew up with. As a kid, it was one of my favorite places to be. Back then, even though the building was a blinding white wedding cake confection, the children’s room was rather small and dark, with aisles of books you could wander. You could take the book that made your heart thump into the back, curl up, and stay there until closing. There was a long wooden desk, and the librarian would stamp the card in the back of the book with a resounding thwap before she let you take it home. On rainy days, or if you were home sick, you could call up the story line and listen to a prerecorded tale for free. There was a millpond out in back, and at night in the summer you could go with your grandparents and listen to big band music and spin around and around until you were dizzy. If you were lucky, your grandfather would buy you a glo stick and you could use it to light up your room well after you were supposed to be asleep.
They did a renovation sometime in the 1980s, I think, and made the children’s room over into a light and airy space. They painted the whole building cream, instead of the original white, and added a comfortable reading room for magazines, and put in skylights and study spaces and a big open staircase. It’s beautiful and inviting, but I still remember the creaky old building my eight-year-old self fell in love with, all those years ago. And when I read there tomorrow, in my heart that’s where I’ll be.