I have wonderful memories of my hometown public library. The library in Davis, California, where I grew up wasn’t especially big or showy. It’s not an especially big town, and while the University library is both very extensive and very impressive, the local library was just an odd little building next door to the Veterans’ Memorial Theatre, where my I performed in ballet recitals, attended a summer theatre program and went to dances and events. They’ve since rebuilt the Davis branch twice, improving and expanding it, but in my day it was dark and yellow and familiar.
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
― Jorge Luis Borges
I remember that library so vividly. The smell, the feel, the lighting, the layout. At first I only knew the children’s room, just off the entry hallway. But I was soon wandering into the main room, discovering the young adult corner, finally landing in fiction. Here I would spend hours of my teenage years, browsing the stacks for new books and finding a wealth of incredible stories. It was in the public library that I discovered D.E. Stevenson and Elizabeth Webster. I found a whole row of books by Elizabeth Cadell, many of which I checked out more than once. I learned how to sample books, what I liked and what I didn’t like, learned to explore beyond the authors I knew. I did research for countless school papers, using the old card catalog.
“When I got [my] library card, that was when my life began.”
― Rita Mae Brown
Since I moved to Sacramento in 1999, I’ve become extremely attached to the Central branch on I and 9th Streets, conveniently just across a park from where I work. I’ll run over on a break or my lunch hour, or ride my bike there on weekends, trot up two flights of stairs to the third floor and lose myself in the fiction stacks. Sometimes I know exactly what book I want, sometimes I spend an hour wandering up and down the aisles. It’s an urban library, so many rootless or homeless people spend their days in the chairs scattered throughout each floor, just killing time or using the free computers. I’m there for different reasons, but we all appreciate the safe haven a public library offers.
“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” ― Walter Cronkite
These days the library has some great online tools, like email reminders when my books are due, easy renewals and e-book borrowing on my Kindle. But in the end, it isn’t the technology that I come back for. It’s the wealth of incredible books, all free, all MINE to enjoy for the three weeks of my checkout. Over the years, I’ve found books that have changed the way I think, read and write, fallen in love with new authors (Ann Bridge, Faith Baldwin, Jean Stubbs), been inspired and challenged and comforted.
When I first began writing, I would stand in the “S” section and imagine my own paperback on the shelf. The desire to manifest that reality pushed me to pursue my dream of being a published author.
I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the reader, the writer or the person I am today without my public library. Happy National Library Week!
“There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag-and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vise verse. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you. ” ― Doris Lessing