What kinds of places make your heart tingle, the corners of your mouth turn upward, your body relax? Beaches, mountain tops, flower gardens, babbling brooks, cozy restaurants, and for me – libraries. Books have been some of my best friends, and libraries contain my past buddies as well as future BFFs that I’m looking forward to meeting.
Libraries, of course, are not just for books anymore. They now have movies, computers, magazines, photocopiers, scanners, Storytime programs, makerspaces, and meeting rooms. They have Facebook pages and programs about yoga and gardening. Books can now be downloaded onto a variety of devices and may be heard but not seen. Sometimes I even enjoy housework because I can don my earbuds and immerse myself in a suspenseful mystery. At a particularly thrilling part, I’ve been known to dust stuff that hasn’t been touched for weeks – okay, maybe months.
My favorite thing in libraries, however, remains words written on that old-fashioned material – paper. I can cuddle up with a book and travel to all sorts of distant places, make amazing discoveries, understand different perspectives, comprehend insightful information, all from the comfort of a chair or couch. I can skim boring descriptions and reread passages that spark my imagination. Books are incredibly patient and transform me at whatever pace I choose.
Libraries are full of interesting books and interesting people. There are nerdy folks like me, parents shepherding rambunctious children, individuals seeking a warm, welcoming environment, and people grateful for the computers and low-cost resources a library provides. There are people of all shapes, ages, and sizes, from every income bracket, pursuing a diverse variety of reading materials: romance, history, sci-fi, fantasy, self-help, classics, mysteries, biographies, . . . Oh, the places we can go!
I first fell in love with libraries while growing up in Redfield, South Dakota. The library there began as a reading club with members buying books to circulate. In March of 1902, the town received a Carnegie Library grant of $10,000. Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American philanthropist who funded a total of 2,509 Carnegie libraries between 1883 and 1929. At first, he funded only libraries in places to which he had a personal connection, but in later years, few towns that requested funding and agreed to terms of operation and maintenance were refused a grant.
Redfield’s library has the distinction of being the oldest Carnegie Library in continuous use in South Dakota. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places.
I remember the beautiful building and the extremely interesting books it contained about dinosaurs. Like most children, I was a big fan of prehistoric creatures. The Redfield Carnegie Library also contained a plethora of Nancy Drew mysteries. Perfect Nancy, tomboy George, and plump Bess were great friends with three distinct personalities who accepted me just the way I was.
When I was a teenager, Redfield’s librarian, who may have been a hippie at heart, let me check out Catcher in the Rye, which was a scandalous book back in the ‘70s. It was a liberating read for a naïve girl from a small town whose most exotic travel experiences had been to Aberdeen, South Dakota, and the Black Hills. Reading it again as an adult was disappointing though, as I found it more silly than tantalizing.
The classics fascinated me as a teenager because I wondered why certain books had been deemed so special. Shakespeare’s dialect perplexed me, but I was able to journey in my mind to different places and times through the works of authors such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, James Michener, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. My vocabulary expanded and whenever I see the word “unctuous” I think of Uriah Heep, the villain in David Copperfield. Western history began to come alive for me while I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and my interest in Russian history sprouted through War and Peace. In other words, Redfield’s Carnegie Library was an enormously exciting place to be.
Local bookstores weren’t available to me when growing up, but I delight in them now, especially if they contain a coffee shop. The advantage of acquiring a book in a store over a library is that, when you pay for a book, you can write in it and highlight the good stuff. If you’re running out of room for all your books, you can become a librarian yourself – loaning books to people or generously giving them away, with the only caveat being recipients should pass the precious words on to someone else.
If you have an addictive personality, I highly recommend becoming hooked on books. Books can give you a natural high. Library cards are generally free, so you can obtain one and have access to all the “uppers” you need – very economical. Charles De Montesquieu said, “I have never known any distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve.” If you’re feeling sad or stressed, finding a good book may be excellent therapy. It has worked for me.
When I finish a good book, I often have to do a little grieving because I miss the characters I’ve come to know. When my daughters were young, together we read the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery and became kindred spirits. Visiting the book’s setting, Prince Edward Island, was on my wish list and several years ago I delighted in visiting the sites set up for Anne groupies like me that so enjoyed the wit and wisdom contained in Montgomery’s writing.
I love libraries because their contents allow me to journey to places I’d never be able to go physically. They expand my mind, warm my heart, give me comfort, and allow me to escape whatever may be troubling me. Thank you, librarians and authors. I’m grateful for all the joy you’ve given me.
Photos compliments of the Redfield Carnegie Library