Saturday, February 6, 2016

In Praise of the Library

Y'all remember that old news story about Daddy President George Bush making a trip to the grocery back in 1992, and being filled with wonder by the UPC scanners? When it broke, it was used by his opposition to prove how out of touch with the world he was. 

I didn't think it was fair; my father would have been similarly awestruck had he ever gone to the grocery store when those fancy things began to be installed. My Daddy was not stupid or uninformed or out of touch with the harsh realities of the world. What he was, though, was a man who'd lost his grocery store privileges years before when my mother tired of his coming home with multiple cans of sardines. He had to eat them on the back porch, and because I loved them, too, the two of us would grab a can and a couple oyster forks and head out. 

So I found Mr. Bush's childlike wonder sort of charming, and recently found myself sharing a similar experience when I visited the main branch of our public library. 

I had not stepped foot in it since my youngest child, now nearing 30 at alarming speed, was in junior high school. I accompanied him there to do a little research. We didn't stay long, and there wasn't any point to browsing for pleasure reading because I spent every working day surrounded by every book I could ever want.  

I never had a to-be-read stack of books at home, either. Books I wanted to read would just be waiting for me in the little yellow building at the corner of East Fairview and Woodley Terrace whenever I wanted them. 

What a comeuppance this closing of the bookstore has been. 

I was out running errands a couple days ago, and after having heard that the main branch of our public library was open again after renovations, I decided to pop in for a visit. 

I needed to replace my lost library card first, though. My information was still in their system, but I gladly forked over $2 to have a replacement card issued. Perhaps it's a sign of our changing society, but the librarian actually laughed out loud when I told him I still lived at the same address they had in their system and that my phone number had not changed.

New card in hand, I decided to at least take a look around. This building holds some vivid memories for me. When I was growing up, visits to the library were just part of our routine, and gosh, I remember how amazing it was to walk out of there with a dozen worlds in words in my hands, and the blessed-beyond-measure feeling that would wash over me as I'd carry them out to Mama's station wagon, as though they were elements of communion. 

Until the early 1980's the Museum of Fine Arts was housed on the second floor. When I was a child, a trip up the winding staircase led to a tableau of an agricultural family and their mule, lifesize and cast in wax. I was at once delighted and terrified by the thought of what might go on up there when the lights went out at night. 

That second story now houses fiction, reference works, and research areas complete with computers and WiFi access. I ambled over to the fiction shelves and wasn't there 2 minutes before I found a book that I had just added to the Stacks app on my iPhone. I was near to overcome with emotion when I realized I could pick that book up and take it home with me FOR FREE. 

I'm here to bear witness that when you've not had any reason to avail yourself of this treasure trove for nearly three decades, you just forget how amazing this whole library thing is. 

I find myself on a learning curve, though. In all those years, things have changed. Patrons now have free online access to ebooks, audiobooks, movies, classic television, and music through a service called Hoopla, and you can ask the library to hold a book for you when it returns to circulation, via the internet. 

I panicked a bit when I realized that there wasn't any CARD in the books. I was sure I'd left without having everything done the right way until I discovered the chip attached to the inside of the back cover. 

I know now exactly how President Bush felt in that moment at the grocery store. 

Because y'all? I haven't been this excited since Alabama flawlessly executed their onside kick in the National Championship game. 


  1. eleanor,growing up i was also a constant visitor to that library. i have so many great memories, glad that is is open again.

    one funny story and one sweet story come to mind..

    back in the day, there were adult library cards and childrens' library cards. i believe children could check out 10 books at a time, adults 20. daddy would take me there and let me use his fully loaded adult card with one stipulation: i could check out anything i wanted, no questions asked (hello Beulah Land & various other racy novels :)) as long as i would agree to read one book that he chose for me. Thanks to that little agreement i read & loved so many books that i would otherwise have turned my nose up at. Jules Verne's novels come to mind.

    as a high schooler, let's just say i was a bit irresponsible. at some point i had wracked up a rather large bill for overdue books. not wanting to get a talking to from my parents & unable to give up my reading addiction, i created a library alias. suzie mcdonald came to be in an incredible stroke of evil genius and the easy availability of new library cards:). i wonder if suzie m. is still on file there...

  2. "I was near to overcome with emotion when I realized I could pick that book up and take it home with me FOR FREE. "

    I came to realize this after too many years of not using the library - I wasn't a reader growing up. Then I retired and funds don't cover endless piles of store-bought books!

  3. Libraries are amazing piles of free stuff! I love mine. I couldn't support my habit if I had to pay for every book. Welcome back to the club.