[I’m sending this off to an “I love the library” contest, please tell me what you think]
More so than any other public place I can think of, libraries have distinct personalities. The first library I ever spent time in was in upstate New York, where I grew up. It was built in the early 1960’s and had a slanted roof, dark brown bricks, and tall narrow windows leading up to a high ceiling over the card catalogs. In the adult section there was one room with two chairs and no windows. More like a monk’s cell than a room in a public building. I spent days there, ten books spread on the side table next to me. Age eleven: I read Dickens for some reason, and also true crime stories. I was pessimistic then, possibly because I was shy and clumsy. There was another room with a green sofa and a window that fogged up easily: an excellent spot to hide out and read. Better to read novels by a fogged up window, for reasons unknown.
I haven’t been back to that library in a decade; I miss it, it was a refuge. I visit the libraries in Colorado for their wonderful resources (very well-stocked shelves in every one I’ve frequented), not as a place to hide. I’m a poet, and I’m always reading something, mostly novels and nonfiction. Good books are getting me through my current job, freelance content writing, the emptiest kind of writing. Reading good writing is protection against this work dragging me down, it reminds me I won’t be doing this work forever. (On a related note, I started my novella in the Rose Reading room at the New York Public Library, over a decade ago.)
Another reason libraries are especially dear to me is because I live in an RV; I’ve had to pare down my books, ruthlessly. When I lived in houses and apartments, I had a thousand books; now I’ve got two modest boxes, the rest were painfully sold and given away. The library is the place I go to read new books, and visit the familiar books I’ve had to part ways with. It’s good to remember how the unabridged works of Shakespeare feels in my hands; a weighty old friend.
Returning to libraries’ personalities; they’re different from other places because they’re made up of many energies. The books and everyone who has picked them up and loved or hated them are one kind of energy. Movies, books on tape, microfiche: all of these carry their own currency. The way the floor feels when you’re standing there reading the inside cover of a biography, this is also part of the whole. And then, the library’s people. In Colorado (and especially in Fort Collins, where I used to live), everyone in the library is kind and respectful, patrons and staff alike. When you walk inside, there’s a feeling of safety, familiarity; people will treat you well in a library, which is unfortunately not the case elsewhere. Libraries encompass the finest points of democracy, community, and freedom.