When I was a child, my favorite book was Chris van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. It was the book I used to figure out the ins and outs of the library business – I knew where it was supposed to be located on the shelf, and then I learned to look at the spine label for the author’s last name to find it even quicker. Sometimes it wouldn’t be there, and I finally figured out that maybe other people had checked it out. When I couldn’t find it, I was forced to break away from my comfort zone and explore other books. But my favorite thing was to beeline for the children’s corner, pull out The Polar Express, and sit in the chair by the corner window to get lost in the story.
As an adult, I can’t figure out for the life of me why I loved this book so much, except that I’ve always been drawn to imagery of cold, dark winter nights. (Cecilia Eckback’s Wolf Winter does cold dark winter nights well, too, FYI, although I wouldn’t recommend it for five-year-olds.)
I don’t remember exactly when I first got my own library card, but I think I was in third grade. In my mind’s eye I can see my shaky cursive scrawl on the back of the well-worn paper card, and I felt like such a grown-up carrying stacks of books nearly as tall as I was to the desk. Memory is a tricky thing, but I do vaguely remember the librarian setting limits on how many books I could check out at once. I still need limits today, believe me.
As I got older and moved on to chapter books, I loved long series, a love which did not follow me to adulthood. I read all of the Ramona books, the Baby-Sitter’s Club, the Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, the Sweet Valley Twins, Little House on the Prairie – especially Little House on the Prairie. I was a shy kid and spent a lot of time in my own head, for better or worse, and the books I liked to read were about little girls like me who I could identify with on some level. Some of my favorites were Judy Delton’s books about Kitty, a Catholic girl my age who made me feel a little less weird about growing up Catholic in rural Alabama. Luckily, we are becoming more aware and responsive to the need for diversity in children’s literature, so kids of all kinds of different backgrounds should be able to walk into a library and find books with main characters that they, too, can identify with.
We lived quite a ways out of town, so I would often take a bus or get a ride to the library after school until my mom got off work. I would sometimes work on homework. More often I would sit in the reading room and look at magazines, particularly Seventeen magazine, which I wasn’t supposed to be reading yet. (I’m sorry you have to find out this way, Mom and Dad. Love y’all.)
At some point in early adulthood I quit going to the library on a regular basis – I guess I got too busy with college and work and getting tattoos and important stuff like that. But when I moved to Franklin five years ago, one of the first things I did was get a library card and start using it. At the time, there was still a five item limit on new library card holders, and I would overwhelm myself trying to decide what I wanted to check out when. The Macon County Public Library felt like home and was at times a refuge when I really needed one. (Still is!)
Having worked in various capacities for FRL for over three years, I’m happy to still be a library nerd. I love libraries. Public libraries, particularly the FRL libraries, provide a wide range of services to meet community needs. I used to regularly find myself in the computer lab at MCPL before I got a laptop, and it thrills me to no end that I could check out a telescope from the library. But to me, there’s still nothing quite as special as pulling a book off a shelf, curling up in a quiet corner, and reading the afternoon away. (In a library, though – or anywhere that’s not my house, where I tend to get distracted by cats and housework.)
I guess the point of all this is: September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, so if you don’t have a card, get one. You won’t regret it!