In honor of National Library Week, I want to show some love for the libraries that have been important to me.
We moved around a lot when I was very young. Our neighborhood, our home, our school…these were always changing. What remained constant in our lives was our interior landscape. No matter where we were, we would always be surrounded by shelves crammed full of my dad’s treasure – the books that he couldn’t be parted with. Books were always a priority, so the other constant in our lives was that wherever we moved, one of the first places my dad would take us would be the public library.
I remember the feeling of joy and relief to see so many books when my dad took us to the local branch of the public library system in Arlington, Virginia. We had recently moved there from a postage stamp sized town in Pennsylvania, where the public library was housed in a minuscule house. I remember being worried that I would run out of books to read; if we had lived there much longer, I certainly would have. There was no shortage of books in the libraries in Arlington. Every week my brother and I would stagger out of the library under the weight of a grotesquely large mountain of books.
I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Library of Congress. My husband and I spent our first year of marriage doing research there side by side. My husband had not yet gotten a permanent teaching position and I was still in the very early stages of working on my dissertation. Our life was unsettled, but spending our days at the library made us feel like we were moving forward, even though we were really just treading water. It gave a comfortable and quiet rhythm to our days.
Years later in Cranbury, New Jersey, where we lived when the terrible events of 9/11 took place, I found solace at the public library. I would take my little son there every day and sometimes twice a day. Whenever we showed up, the white-haired librarians would come running to see my toddler. When they realized I was pregnant with my second child, they were reproachful. “You’re going to make him grow up too fast,” they told me as they put their arms around their beloved pet as if to shelter him from his monstrous and overly fertile mother.
What I checked out that year probably did nothing to endear me to them. I had never had trouble sleeping before, but all that year, the only way I could fall asleep would be to listen to books on tape. I discovered murder mysteries that year. I would listen to them all night long to banish the horrible images in my head. At the end of those stories, there was always a reckoning where good would triumph over evil. I got through that year with a lot of help from Dorothy Sayers and P.D. James.
Of the many libraries in my life, the one I have loved most of all is Crozet Library. When we moved to the western part of Charlottesville, I discovered this library, located in this teeny tiny, adorable little train depot:
I spent many happy hours there with my children when they were very young and I was staying at home with them.
The librarians here were the loveliest, kindest, most generous people in the world. They tended to the library as lovingly as they personally tended the little garden out front, which would brim with roses, poppies, and geraniums all summer long.
Story time was a revelation. Miss Rhonda put so much love and creativity into her presentations, it felt like a privilege to be there. Sometimes during story time a train would start rumbling by and she would encourage the kids to run to the big picture window overlooking the tracks to wave as it went by. Once at the end of story time, she brought all the kids out to sing Happy Birthday to her fellow librarian, who stood with her eyes shining and her hands clasped together. The library always felt like a snug harbor where only good existed.
I was amazed by all of the wonderful programs they would put on with very little resources. There was the “Fancy Nancy Party”:
And the “Winnie the Pooh Party”:
There was always a terrific summer reading program with themes like “Under the Sea”:
One summer we participated in the “Where in the World is Claudius Crozet” program with our cutout figure of the man for whom the town is named. We brought Claudius on our trip to California and, as is my wont, I took things a little too far…
By the end of our trip to California, I feared that my exasperated husband would do bodily harm to
our my little cutout friend.
One summer we marched with the library in a town parade. It was so much fun…
until the kids started broiling under the brutal heat of the sun:
The library had been bursting at the seams for years. The county finally broke ground on a beautiful new building just around the corner from the old one. Last year there was an incredibly moving ceremony to move the last of the books from the little train station to the new building. Members of the community, including many children who walked over from the local elementary school, stood in a long line from the old library to the new library. They passed books hand over hand from one to the other. I was so sad to miss this because it was during work hours. Hopeless sap that I am, I shed tears watching the video of the ceremony.
The new building is pretty spectacular:
The librarians continue to be the very heart and soul of Crozet. They continue to provide wonderful programming in their beautiful new space.
But life’s gotten busy and the kids have gotten older. Once I started working, it got harder to get the kids to the library. We drive past the gleaming new building every week on our way to my daughter’s violin lesson. Every week, she was begging to go to there and would sigh when I said we didn’t have the time to fit it in. One day, she made it clear to me how important it was to her when she advised me that she had done some research and that we could go on Monday or Tuesday, when it would stay open until 9.
I felt chastened when I thought back to my own childhood and about how my dad would take us to the library every single week without fail, no matter how busy he was. I’ve promised her that I would do my best to take her there every week.
Life is busy, but you have to make time for the important things.