Libraries I Have Known & Loved
Many of our blog entries here are about reading YA books, writing YA books, popular YA books past & present, reviews & lists of suggestions, etc. Oh, and television, just this week! I thought I’d try something new. At least I think it’s new—I may have missed a blog entry or two focusing on the treasure troves of books--libraries.
I would be seriously freaked out if any YAAYNHO contributor or reader claimed to have no favorite library or not remember one fondly from back when they were children. Probably the first library we all loved was that little stack of picture books with our favorites on top, ready for Mom or Dad to read them to us ten times over—even though we already knew every word. A new addition to the stack--filled with fairy tales, or starring our favorite character from TV or film or the next book written by Dr. Seuss--was a big deal.
But as we got a bit older, we learned that there were whole places with shelves and shelves of books! Shelves nice and low too. We could sit in front of them, reach straight over and pull out something that looked interesting. Never mind that three other books came out of the row as well. Maybe one of the others would look even better.
The best, the magic part, was that we could choose a whole bunch—not like in a store—and Mom or Dad and the strange lady way up behind the counter would let us take them home! Yes, there was the sad part of bringing them back. However, sometimes we could just go to the library and take the same ones home all over again.
As I often remind you all, I’m an old fogy. I probably have library memories from before your time, you young chickens and roosters, you. Here’s what I remember:
The first library I can remember was a New Castle (DE) Mobile Library when our family lived in Woodlawn Park Apartments. This camper-like truck chock full of books came by once a week and parked briefly in our neighborhood, so that residents could stop by and return or check out books. I don’t remember much about it except—unlike my description earlier—most of the books were way up in the air. Once in a while, we missed the mobile library when it went by. Major tragedy!
When I was in second grade, I started attending the brand new Brookside Elementary School. Someone must have forgotten to put a library in the plans. All we had was what I recall as the “Closet Library” – rather like a coat check room with the top half of the door open when the library was open. I have no idea how we knew what books to ask for. I don’t think we could see them. Hands down, the worst library I can remember.
Newark Free Library #1. I used to love the original Newark Free Library when it was squeezed into an old white church building at the end of Elkton Road. Our family went to it at the same time I was in early elementary school, so the inconvenience of the Closet Library wasn’t that much of a concern to me. Technically, the renovated church’s altar area was still there but a wooden platform had been built over it. If I remember correctly, different parts of the library had wooden flooring at different levels, each reflecting their original functions: altar, seating, aisle. I found my first horse books there. J
When I was in mid-elementary school, my mother began working in the Memorial Library, at that time the main library of the University of Delaware. You’ve heard of “army brats”? Well, I was a “library brat”. My mom frequently had no babysitter for me, so she would bring me along to work and drop me in the Reference Room under the watchful eyes of reference librarians. I assume I was supposed to stay in there but I’m quite sure that I didn’t always. At least once, I wandered off to the Bookstore, which was in the same building—just down a flight. I came back with a slightly damaged slide rule that had been on sale. Paid my whole allowance for it. I didn’t know what it was for but I loved its white matte finish.
My family went up to Delaware’s “big city” of Wilmington for shopping, back in the day when there were actual department stores, bakeries, jewelers and such on Market Street. While we were in town, we stopped at the Wilmington Public Library, opposite tiny Caesar Rodney Square in the heart of the city. (Both are still there, and looking pretty much as they always did.) Adult books were on the first floor. To reach children’s books, I had to walk down what seemed like a very creepy dark staircase. The creepiness didn’t stop me. Not once. I really hated it when my parents would call to me from the top of the stairs and say it was time to go home.
I might have been in high school when Kirkwood Public Library was built. Brand new and shiny, it had no books. Okay, it had –some- books. The librarians were waiting for the rest to arrive from somewhere or other. In the meantime, we would look up titles in the card catalog, not find most of them on the shelf, and be given interlibrary loan forms at the Circulation Desk. Interlibrary Loan. Little did I know…
I have only vague memories of my high school library. I did use it. Really. I remember one book in particular, but I’m not telling…
Years earlier, my parents went on vacation to Ocean City, New Jersey for the first time, leaving my brother and me in the care of our maternal grandparents. The whole family went there the following summer. That was the beginning of the family love affair with Ocean City. My grandmother and I were particularly enamored of the little town and its long boardwalk. Any time my parents chose not to go to the shore in the summer, MaMa and I did so alone.
During one of those excursions, I discovered the Ocean City Free Public Library in a rather ordinary two-story house on Simpson near the bay side of the island. I was flabbergasted that they lent books to vacationers. I mean all you had to do was show a driver’s license, a hotel/motel room key, give a quart of blood….
While writing this article, I checked the web, and found a picture of the current OC Library. Part of it is still that house but wrapped around almost half of it now is a very modern addition. It looks like a Star Trek transporter accident. (See the picture at the top of the blog.)
By the time I began college, the old Memorial Library on the UD campus had become a classroom building. Taking its place was the much, much larger rectangular mass of the University of Delaware’s Hugh Morris Library. In one of my first college classes, a professor told us to go visit the Reserved Book Room and get familiar with it, since we would be using it a lot. A friend and I strolled over to the building and found the room. We went so far as to check out an article. Who knows what it was—I don’t think we had any assignments from there yet. The lady behind the counter told us that the article was for two hours. We thought that meant we had to stay there—in the room--for two hours. So we did. Bored. Only able to talk in a whisper. With an article between us that neither of us needed to read.
By the following spring, I was working at the library, in the reserve room as a student assistant. I would end up working somewhere or other in the building for more than thirty five years. During the first decade, I discovered the children’s and young adult collection tucked in the middle of the second floor stacks. It was meant for the use of school of education students but they never used. I did.
Newark Free Library #2. I can’t remember when they did it, but eventually the Newark Library pulled up roots and moved to the other side of Newark, planting itself quite conveniently on Library Avenue. Library Avenue. Hmm. Shouldn’t they have realized that that was where they were supposed to be from the beginning? J Bigger, shiny and new, the library housed more books and other facilities than the librarians in the original building could ever have dreamed about. I liked the original better, but I worked in the new version part time for a couple of years.
University of Delaware Library, Version 2.0, 2.1 … By the time, I retired from Morris, it had gone through two expansions and a lot of re-arranging. I had gone through a bit of re-arranging too. Before I quit, I had worked in the Reserve Room, Circulation, Cataloguing (during our change-over from Dewey to LC), and finally Interlibrary Loan (during our changeover from manual charges and a card catalog to complete automation).
In the meantime, I mutated from a reader into a writer of YA/adult books. The first bits and pieces of my first manuscript, “Seabird”, were written in the library on index cards using a golf pencil—both of which could be tucked into a pocket.
And my library today? Just a month ago, I joined LibraryThing on the web:
So far, I’ve input data on seven hundred books from my collection. Given that my books fill maybe eight to ten bookcases, with more tucked into cabinets and such, I guess I still have a half to two thirds of my collection to add. Lots of them are young adult and/or speculative fiction. A very few--greatly treasured--are very old children’s books.
Please tell us about your favorite library!
Question for authors: Are any of your books in libraries? And, if you don't mind saying, were you the one to put them there? ("Seabird" is in the Newark Free Library YA collection because I gave them a copy.)
Readers & authors: Have you ever wondered if a "hidden treasure" young adult or children's book is in a library somewhere? Maybe one close by? You can find out by checking WorldCat--a database that thousands of libraries use. Don't forget, if you find that title, you can have it sent to your local library, via interlibrary loan.