Remember that feeling of excitement when you first discovered you could read? Really read. When you couldn’t wait to find out how a story ended? Or learn about a faraway place?
There’s a quote from the Dr. Seuss book, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!, that I’ve always loved: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
Growing up I didn’t have a Books, Inc. or Book Buyers just a few blocks away, but I did have a local library—the Thomas Crane Public Library. It was a small branch library, but to me it seemed huge. My eyes saw floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and an endless supply of books waiing to be discovered.
What I loved most was the quiet. My house wasn’t quiet. I shared a room with two sisters. The library became my escape place.
What a thrill it was to get my first library card. I felt very grown up signing my name. It allowed me to take home books for three weeks at a time—that felt like forever.
We didn’t have computers. To find a book we used a card catalogue—tall wooden cabinets with narrow drawers filled with cards. Each card contained all the information about a book (title, author, publisher, etc.). Every book in the library had a card.
I remember the first time I borrowed a book. (Sadly, I don’t remember the title.) Inside the cover was a check out card. The librarian wrote my library card number on it and then replaced it with a card that had the return date stamped on it.
Taking out books was like having Christmas all year round. The only problem was I couldn’t keep the books as long as I wanted. I hated returning a book I really loved—books with characters that had become new friends. I’d check out some books again and again, unless there was a waiting list.
Once I hid a book and didn’t return it.
The library had a rule about how long you could keep a book out of circulation. I had already renewed it three times; I was at the limit but I wanted to read it again. I gambled that the book wouldn’t be missed and convinced myself I was just borrowing longer, not stealing it.
But keeping the book wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.
Afraid one of my sisters would tell my mother, I hid it instead of rereading it. One day my brother caught me sneaking a look and told me that if the library found out I had stolen the book they’d send the police to arrest me. He suggested that if I did dishes for him for two weeks he might not tell on me.
Do you see my dilemma? If I told the truth and returned the overdue book, I was afraid I might lose my library privileges. And there'd be a fine. But if I didn’t return it, I might have to face the police and jail or, worse, my mother. (I didn’t really believe I would be arrested, but I was a gullible kid.)
So I washed dishes for my brother for two weeks. Then, guilty and afraid, I returned the book and confessed to the librarian. She made me promise never to do it again and said she was proud of me for telling the truth. Instead of a fine she let me help her stack books from the return bin for several weeks. (And she didn’t tell my mother.) Whew!
But what that librarian really did for me was foster my desire to read and use the library.
Books were my tickets to see the world, learn new things and vicariously live alternate lives. I traveled on safari, saw the Seven Wonders of the World and explored space. I learned about history. I was an acrobat, a detective, a geologist and a famous movie star.
When my kids were young I wanted them to love reading and the library too, so we took weekly library excursions. The only rule: they had to carry the books they wanted to check out. I can still see them with books stacked from hands to chins walking slowly so they wouldn’t drop any, wishing they had longer arms. Before I was out of the parking lot they were reading.
I don't know if they were ever tempted to keep a book, but they often renewed the same books over and over again. (If they kept one, I never knew.)
Now I’m watching that same love of reading replay again with my granddaughter. She’s always loved books, but now she loves them differently. She’s discovering the world through words.
“It has often been said, there’s so much to be read, you never can cram, all those words in your head.” (Dr. Seuss)
If I want to find out something quick, I use Google—I love the instant gratification. I have a Kindle and full bookshelves. And I love bookstores.
But there’s something special about a library. I love browsing the stacks discovering new things, new authors. And I love the quiet. Mostly, I love knowing there’s an endless supply of books right in front of my eyes waiting to take me places.
Dr. Seuss was 100 percent right.