The memories I keep of my hometown library surround me like a comfortable blanket. It was a place where I first found independence because when we moved from the country to the village when I was in second grade, we were less than half a mile, door to door from the library. I tried to convince my mother to let me go alone but she always made sure to send an older sibling along just in case. By fourth grade I was able to go on my own and I spent most Saturdays there.
Upon arriving at the library, I bounced up the steps, opened the heavy brown door and was greeted by the intoxicating scent of books. The librarian was at a desk, straight ahead, always busy matching up people to books. She would stop what she was doing to look up and greet me with a wide smile before returning to her pile. Although her name escapes me, she was everything you’d imagine from a small town librarian. Gray-haired, glasses that dangled from a chain, cardigan-wearing, a ready smile, eager to help.
To the left as you entered stood the card catalog unit, overstuffed with typed up index cards telling you where you could find each and every book in the library. To the right were two long tables surrounded by comfortable chairs and window seats where the locals would congregate and catch up on out of town newspapers and periodicals. It’s where I would sit for hours as I worked on my book reports for school, sometimes joined by friends but many times contentedly alone.
Behind the librarian was the children and youth section, compact and cozy. Here I met Pipi Longstocking, Fern Arable, Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March and many other unforgettable characters. The fiction section, which was my favorite, took up space in a circular room off the main part of the library. The walls and center were lined with books in floor-to-ceiling bookcases. It wasn’t a large room by any means and I always worried what would happen when they ran out of room for new books. It never seemed to happen though. Sometimes I would pluck a book from the shelf and plop myself right there and read for hours or until another patron came by and I was in the way.
There would be occasions where the librarian wouldn’t be able to find something you needed and she’d allow you to go with her to the basement where they kept the overflow and help her search for just what was needed. It was a magical world in itself with stacks of magazines, piles of books and newspapers but she always knew where she could find what was required.
It has been years since I’ve been to this library although I am in town regularly to visit family. A part of me is worried what I’ll find. Several years ago they put on a long overdue addition (they must have run out book space after all) and I don’t want to go in and see computers where comfortable chairs and the long tables once dotted the sunny reading room. I’m afraid it will all be different and I prefer to keep my memories intact.