Libraries

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I love libraries. One of my earliest memories was going to the Ocean Beach Public Library, possibly still in a stroller, so my young mother could feed her reading addiction with old musty novels from the 1930s and 1940s … wait, they wouldn’t have been old and musty then but rather new and shiny. After the library we would do a little shopping on Newport and maybe have a cherry coke.

A few years later we moved more inland and our town built and new, modern library for local residents. I remember going in the front door and splitting up, my sister and I going to the left where the children’s and juvenile books were waiting and my mother to the right where the forbidden adult books promised a hidden world of maturity and adventure. I still remember the exact day my mother (and the library rules) decided I could leave the world of Dr.Seuss and All About Frogs and cross the lobby to the world of adult reading and discovery.

Note the the adult section of the library has a very different meaning than the adult section of a video store.

Where I went to school in the land of Max Rafferty the first school library we saw was in Junior High School. It was also the time I begin to earn a few coins doing chores around the neighborhood and could occasionally buy a pocketbook for a quarter down at the candy/stationary/bookstore next to the new super market.

images.jpgSchool libraries, in my opinion, were actually limiting on the growth and curiosity of students. After all, how many students considered the school library to be the furthest extent of knowledge? But I suppose that lacking driver’s licenses made school libraries important. That all ended when I turned 14 1/2 and got my driver’s permit. In no time I was visiting libraries and bookstores all around the county, even at the local colleges. When I wasn’t in school you could find me down at the beach, usually laying prone on a large towel reading semi-trashy books (I was big then on H. G. Wells, William Goldman, and John Keats).

I believe the single-most important image I retain that significantly influenced my reading life was that of my mother struggling out through the front door of the public library with her handbag dangling precariously on one shoulder and a tall, unstable stack of books held tightly against her body.

Funny thing, she would be back to the library in two or three days later for yet another large stack of books … and I would be right alongside her with my own seven books (as allowed by the library). Maybe that was why I looked forward to graduating to the adult side of the library: no restrictions on checkout!

Unfortunately my years of wandering around the library stacks diminished when it became common to access the collection via computer and have a wide view of the availability of a book, not just at your local library but also at other related libraries around the county or even the state. I still went to the library to retrieve and return the books I read, but the discovery element was lost. The same thing happened with the biggest of brick and mortar bookstores: when they first opened I would spend hours drifting among the books but at a certain point there was more to be found online than at the actual store and if it wasn’t for the coffee café I probably would have spent more time at Surf Taco.

images-2.jpgNowadays I have hundreds of unread books on my bookshelves but it is becoming more and more difficult to read them as my eyes get old and tired. Luckily the digital age has given me several excellent devices to store and read books in a font size that I can handle.

I see that more and more libraries are providing online access to digital books but they’ll never replace the physical sensation of holding and reading a real paper and ink book. Besides, there is a real social responsibility represented by libraries. After all, not everyone has and iPhone and it’s quite difficult to rely on candlelight to recharge your iPad’

 

6 responses

  1. Growing up, we lived on army bases. My first library memories were during my 4th and 5th grade years, in Ansbach, Germany. The base library was two buildings from hour housing unit, and between home and the school bus stop. Almost every day after school those two years, I stopped to read for awhile, discover books, and relax. That started my lifelong love of libraries.

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    • We should remember that libraries were wildly varied: That new library I mentioned was all brick and glass with a nice collection and plenty of room to sit around and read, but at the same time a much closer library was a semi-converted two-bedroom house with plywood walls, probably build during the war for aircraft workers. And don’t forget the bookmobiles that travelled around some towns.

      Thinking back, there was a lady at the hospital who volunteered to push around a cart filled with books. I was in the hospital for a month or more and I looked forward to her visit each day or two and despite the limited selection, I remember reading Something Happened, Advise and Consent, and Helter-Skelter from her cart, amongst others.

      Many a public library started out as a lone shelf of used books in the corner of the city clerk’s office.

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  2. 11 or 12 is just on the edge of being too young. You were probably precocious anyway. Things were different back then and the world seemed a safer place. None of these horror stories from today.

    I shop online at Powells quite frequently. Sadly I’ve never had the opportunity to visit. One I loved was Bookman’s in Arizona. The one in Flagstaff was my main one as I used to live about three hours away. Visited the Tucson branch a couple of times.

    My greatest find was on vacation in Indiana and the only time I’ve visited a used book store that was in an old house. It was a complete set of Balzac’s Human Comedy for $75. This was in the mid-80s.

    Yes, good point, PG has certainly supplanted used book stores for the classics. In fact, the Balzac set I acquired while on vacation was the basis for about half the Balzac books at PG. The other half were done by John in New Zealand from a set translated around the same time by Wormeley. It’s good though, not only because of the size of the print, but because so many of them were hard to find – and expensive and bulky if you did find them. I read my first Balzac in the mid-70s and in the ten years before acquiring the complete set, had only found around 10% of them. Of course this was before the days of online shopping.

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  3. I love the library! My mom took us all the time when we were little, and I was fortunate that throughout most of my school days we had decent libraries. I take my kids now, because with as many books as they read I would never be able to afford their habits otherwise! And yes, there is nothing like the feel of a real book!

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  4. Both my parents were readers and my mother always frequented the library so my library experiences as a child mirror yours. I too can recall the glorious days when I graduated to the adult section. I’m sure we varied at this point in our reading choices. My early ones were the gothic romances (Dorothy Eden, Victoria Holt and such).

    Browsing was always such fun – and I found large used book stores to be absolute heaven. Never knew what treasure I’d find among all those interesting books I never even knew existed.

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    • I think back now and am amazed that my parents let me roam around cities we might be visiting for a convention or just sight-seeing. We’re talking about 11 or 12 years old roaming around Phoenix or San Francisco or Los Angeles. I especially enjoyed Hollywood Boulevard back in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s before the hippy riffraff and biker clubs obliterated the old Hollywood.

      One of my favorite destinations was the Pickwick Bookstore: it wasn’t Powell’s but it was huge for a young boy raised on the wire-rack down at the candy store. Years later I adored the original Scribner’s but even the Brentano’s was a pleasure. Of course this was before the advent of the big-box-bookstore and the internet.

      I had a favorite used bookstore in Cranberry (NJ) in an musty old three-story house with magazines moistening in the basement and two or three floors of very loosely categorized books up and down the stairs and 78 RPMs out of the enclosed porch. My biggest memory of this place, other than the hours of digging through the years after having breakfast down at the Inn, was the complete many volume set of Pepys’ Diary for only $300 bucks .. and I didn’t have the $300 bucks at the time.

      The irony now is that you can download the complete Diary on the internet for free. Has Project Gutenberg supplanted the used bookstore?

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