For the Love of a Library


We would walk to the library, lugging bags full of books. It wasn't far, under a mile, but when I was small and the books were heavy it felt like forever. It was a walk we took in all kinds of weather because we were a family that believed in regular trips to the library. We were each responsible for carrying the books we checked out and since I always checked out the most that were allowed (eight books which I never thought was enough) it is not surprising that my bag was heavy. We would walk down our street, right on Main Street, past the pizza place, Lift-the-Latch Gift Shop, and Fairway. I'm not sure what you would call Fairway. Maybe it was the equivalent of a five-and-dime though I am not old enough for it to be a true five-and-dime. It was the heady source of many of my childhood purchases. My allowance went far in there; Slinkies, doll's baby bottles filled with fake orange juice, jump ropes, Chinese jump ropes when those were the fad in fifth grade. On we would walk, past the park next to the library, the fountain with the dancing bears, and up the steps into the children's room.


The librarians were kind but very firm. They had the books arranged by grade and if you ventured into the wrong section they would come and question you. I found this very frustrating because I always read way above grade level and yearned after the books in the section for older kids. Finally, I got approval to use that section early and then, and this was a huge concession, to check out books from the adult section before I was in sixth grade. The freedom! The books! All the Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse I wanted!

Library cards still had the little metal tab that slid onto them and the card in the book was stamped by being inserted into a machine. I can still remember the sound it made. If you needed to find a book you looked it up in a card catalogue. I always got sidetracked when I was looking a book up. I would stumble across so many other interesting books and would end up just browsing the card catalogue. I understand the convenience of computers but oh, I miss the card catalogue.


I visited the Mary Cheney Library a week or so ago and I am happy to say that it hasn't changed much. You walk in and it still smells of old books and old building. It is how I think all libraries should smell. The old metal shelves are still there and the banisters are just a little more worn. The reference room is full of computers now which, I suppose, is necessary. But I swear the chairs and tables in the children's room are the same ones I sat at so long ago.


What made me happiest though was to see that so many old books remain on the shelves. There are books that I remember from my childhood. I pulled a copy of Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott off the shelf and I think it is the same one I checked out years ago.  And while I saw a lot of new releases I also saw a lot of books from decades gone by. Too many libraries cull the books that aren't taken out often and thus deprive the reading public of amazing discoveries. I am sure there is a reason, probably to do with shelf space and budget, but I think a library should have a huge variety of books. It shouldn't just be mainly books published in the last ten years. The sign on the bookshelf in the photo above encourages library patrons to ask for any book they can't find. The librarians will be happy to check in the thousands of books they have in the basement. "Thousands of books." Those words just gave me a shiver of joy.



These photos aren't the greatest. I snapped them on my phone when I stopped in at the library after an appointment. But they make me happy because that library of my childhood is still there. They may have added some modern touches and changed things around a bit but the essentials are the same. I walked in and took a deep breath of that old book smell and for a moment I was eight-year-old Jenny again ready to cart home a huge bag of books.

I wish this still was my local library but at least I know it is still the way I remember. Maybe there is another eight-year-old Jenny who is convinced she can read anything and who can never have enough books. I like to think so.


Mary Cheney Library
586 Main Street
Manchester, CT 06040

11 comments

  1. Oh, my goodness: you've moved me to tears.

    My old childhood library was replaced 20 years ago with a new "improved" building. It was a loss of a piece of my heart.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh,that is a compliment!

      I see the need for new buildings sometimes but they are never quite the same, are they?

      Delete
  2. Your old library sounds and looks perfect, whoever is running it has absolutely the right ideas. I did eventually get a job in my childhood library and so could mooch around in the basement reserve stock when I wasn't too busy. I don't know what it's like now but I hate it that where we live now they cull books like crazy and only have about a third of the amount of books that they used to have.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I need to get a job in that library just so I can mooch around in the reserve stock! What a fantastic idea. Though, I suspect I would get fired because I would always be down there reading instead of doing the work I was assigned. I occasionally check out books I am particularly fond of in the hopes of preventing any traumatic culling. I don't know if it works but I like to think so.

      Delete
  3. What a lovely library that is. There really is nothing else like the smell of your childhood library, is there? I know a great many librarians wish that they had more space/funding/time to keep the less-loved books around for those rare but special little discoveries like you've described. Of course we are all servants to our city councils/boards/taxpayers/etc. -- so the best thing you can do to keep your library the best it can be is to advocate for it and let them know what you as a citizen are hoping to find there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I definitely don't think libraries are appreciated as they should be. I know librarians must be between a rock and a hard place when it comes to deciding what books to keep but it does make me sad to see old favorites disappearing.

      Delete
  4. A wonderful article about a magical place. Whenever I walk in there I miss the string of eager readers at my side. Especially a little 2nd grader determined to read Little Women over a stubborn librarian’s objections.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Card catalogs were great! And they smelled so mysteriously awesome, too.

    What a lovely ode to your childhood library. I wonder what the one I grew up going to looks like now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kids these days don't know what they are missing when they just look things up on the computer. (I say that while rapping my cane on the floor and peering over my glasses.) But I think I must be doing something right. A book came in the mail the other day and the first thing my daughter did was pull it out of my hands so she could smell it. She said old book smell is one of her favorites. I was so proud.

      Delete