Libraries have been a huge part of my life from the time I was a child. At my parochial grade school, each class made a formal visit to the school library once a week and we were allowed to check out one book, which would be due the next week. We thought that was so exciting!
I usually finished the book in a couple of days, but fortunately, my parents were not only readers, but believers in the public library system. Back then, our closest library was the central library, which was in downtown Fort Worth. On a Sunday afternoon every three weeks (the checkout period), we made a trip downtown to turn in our books, browse the shelves and check out another stack of books for each family member. I can still see the trunk of our ’56 Buick filled with books.
For that matter, I can still see the children’s area of the library, which occupied the basement floor of the building. The checkout desk was in the first room, along with the books for pre-school-age children. The non-fiction books were next, with the fiction around the walls. I remember a series of ‘biographies’ written for children. The titles all followed the same format, e.g., “Francis Marion, Swamp Fox’. (Do not ask me why I can remember that when I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night!)
When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I wanted to read books from the Young Adult section, which was upstairs. The rule, though, was that you had to be at least 13 to check out any books other than those in the children’s section. One Sunday, my dad took me upstairs to one of the librarians in the adult section, pulled a book off a shelf and had me read aloud a paragraph to her. He pulled another book off the shelf and I read another paragraph. At this point, the librarian agreed that I could have access to, and check out, books from anywhere in the library.
By the time I started high school, there was a branch library on the west side of Fort Worth that we patronized. I worked part-time in the library all four years of high school, first as a ‘page’, then as a clerk. To this day, I alphabetize my fiction books by the author’s ‘real’ last name if I know it, not the pen name, because that’s how it was done in our library.
In every place I’ve lived in as an adult, I’ve gotten a library card, even in Warsaw, Indiana, where I worked summer stock one year. Over time, though, while I still used my local library, I started buying most of the books I read – either new or secondhand. At one point, I had over 800 books in my 400 square foot apartment.
Despite my best efforts at occasionally weeding out books for donation, my bookshelves were always full. Maybe it was having to pack all those books for the move to Providence that made me decide to buy fewer books and start checking out books from the library. What a pleasure that has been! From the first time I walked into my neighborhood library, I felt at home. I’m sure that’s due in part to the strong resemblance the Providence Public Library building bears to the Fort Worth library of my childhood.
I can’t count the number of books I’ve checked out in the last three and a half years. Thanks to the Ocean State Libraries system, I am able to request books from libraries all over the state. The library has a computer room that is almost always completely occupied and offers computer and other classes, as well as lectures and exhibits. I like this library so much that I’ve started taking my laptop to the reading room of the library two or three times a week and working there for a couple of hours – the atmosphere encourages working on my photos or my writing.
Yep, library geek and proud of it!