I’ve always had a deep connection with libraries.
When I was in elementary school, my parents had a picture frame shop that was right next door to the Southwest Branch of the Greensboro Public Library. The shopping center where they were located was also right across the street from the school, so each day, I would leave class, cross the road, hop down the steep embankment into the parking lot. Then, I would begin my afterschool ritual — stopping in the laundromat to grab a Nehi grape soda or Cheerwine and say hello to the owner as I made my way three doors down to check in with the parents.
Although the frame shop was interesting to me — all these colors and textures and mat boards and sharp objects that could really do some damage to a ten-year-old’s fingers — what really caught my attention was the library next door. I became a “regular” there, and all the librarians knew me well, as I was in there almost EVERY day. Looking back, I appreciate their tolerance of my following them around, offering to help return books to their proper places on the shelves. I used to rock the Dewey Decimal System and the card catalog. I SO wanted to be a librarian. To me, they were gods and goddesses.
I felt at home in the reference section, and it showed, as I always managed to receive good grades on projects and research papers. But the space where I felt most comforted was deep in the back corner, away from the outside world, somewhere in between Judy Blume and books on bigfoot, ghosts, and UFOs. It was the place I would go to hide and think after my Momma died. The place where I learned about the “facts of life” by reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. It was my safe place – my place of peace.
Dad sold the frame shop a few years after Momma died, and the library branch closed. It’s difficult to see how sad and dilapidated the place has become. Library replaced by a “rent-to-own” store, and the parking lot taken up by an imposing stucco movie theater that looks just plain ugly. I would NEVER allow my daughter to walk across that street in this day and age, much less wander the shopping center. Thank goodness the school still looks just as friendly as it did back then.
Now, that I’m in my late 40s, I still find solace in the library stacks. There’s something about the smell and the comforting quiet that makes me feel that all is well — the outside world might be going to hell in a handbasket, but in there, it’s all good. I work at the local university and have decided to create a new “ritual.” At least two lunch hours a week, I’m going to walk to the campus library, get in the elevator, pick a random floor, and get lost.
I did it yesterday, as a matter of fact. Classes don’t start until Monday, so it was extra nice and quiet. I picked the 4th floor — as a graduate student in higher education, I spent lots of time on that floor. When the door opened, I saw no one until turning the corner. The student assistant was rolling a cart of books to be re-shelved. I went to the far end of the floor and entered the depths. Colors, textures, and smells all coming back to life. I could feel the peace beginning to surround me, and once again, I was that little girl who felt at home and safe.