Monday, June 1, 2009

Lost at the Library

Saturday morning I got lost at the library. I walked over to return a few books that were overdue, and figured that while I was there, I would look for some books on a few other subjects I am interested in: running and gardening. I walked into the non-fiction section, starting at 796.42, but shortly abandoned what I had come for. I moved left into word games, around the corner to cooking, over to container gardening, down another aisle to health and wellness, and over to back pain. An hour and a half later, I left the library with two books, neither about running or gardening.

The hour and a half lost in the library made me reminiscint of visiting the library as a kid.

Our local library was a Carnegie Library, with a comfortable childrens' section in a half buried basement and a mysterious adult section upstairs. The entrance was a landing between the two, and upon passing through that door, you had to decide to which class you belonged. The feeling of importance and daring when I decided to go up rather than down was a marked point in my childhood.

Later in life when I read Annie Dillard's chapter on her childhood library in An American Childhood, I felt like I had met myself. Only, at the top of the stairs, we parted ways: she turned left into the non-fiction books and I turned right into the fiction. I would walk among those rows, picking out all the books I wanted to read: Dickens, Thackary, Eliot, Hugo, Dumas, Stevenson, Austen. Finding them was pretty easy: if it was published by Dodd, Mead & Co. in the "Great Illustrated Classics" series, I wanted to read it. One year when I was in middle school, I decided that all those books weren't going to get read if I didn't take them home, so I went through and pulled them all from the shelves. I lugged them all home and lined them up on my windowsill: they nearly filled the five foot span. How many did I read? Zero. How much did I pay in fines? About $35 - a minor fortune to a middle schooler who was currently earning $2 an hour babysitting.

When I got into high school, I lost my time to read and my visits to the library became more rare. Also, the library moved to a much more practical but much less romantic building. Nevertheless, the feeling of potential when I walk through those doors remains.


teal! said...

ooooh - the BPL is magnificent, no?

Have you seen the Sargent murals?

And, I highly recommend tea at the cafe - quite fun, and sooooo classy. =)

(though, i can't remember anything about their actual selection of tea - it might not quite be up to your standards...)

Melanie said...

Teal -

I have mixed feelings about BPL. I do love the old part, but the new part feels dirty and depressing and I rarely find any book I'm looking for.

However, I very much want to take tea in their cafe some time!

Sarah said...

Mel, If we had the library you do I think I would be there more often. Our local library is like the new section at the BPL, nothing inspiring about it. I'm hoping the next place we live has a library that will reawaken that sense of limitless opportunities that I felt as a child at the library.

deanna said...

You paint a lovely picture of a child connecting with books. I just always read whatever was handy, but the library made a lot of things handy.

Aly sun said...

Your description of the old library took me back. If I think hard enough, I can even remember the smell of old books, old shelves, and old carpet all crammer into a basement.

I should make a date with myself to get lost in the library some time. My library excursions include taking along my Automated Bookshelf Unloaders and I can't think, let alone dream.

yellowinter said...

my days at the library consist of chasing after a 2 y/o, trying to keep him away from the "quiet area." hope that 2 y/o will one day have nostalgic memories as well. I echo the thoughts on BPL cafe. Ante N, we used to love sitting by the fountains to prepare for c's boards and to get lost with a camera at hand. I loved how the water fountains would drown out the sounds of our city just beyond the courtyard. Now, you are making me nostalgic. :) I also love our Brookline's main branch. Is that where you go?

Angela McRae said...

Hi Melanie! I hope it's OK to contact you this way, but when I found out a fellow tea lover is also a fellow tatter, I had to share this link:

I ordered the book and cannot WAIT to have some tatted teapots to show on my blog. I knew you would appreciate knowing about this as well! Take care!

Sarah D. said...

Wow! did you ever capture the feelings of the old library.I loved roaming through the children's section discovering treasures. I vividly remember the day I checked out books from the upstairs. I felt so grown-up. I also remember getting lost upstairs trying to find my mother.
The Carnegie Library is part of the reason I am in library school today.