If librarians were honest,
they would say, No one
spends time here without being
changed. Maybe you should
go home. While you still can.
~Joseph Mills from “If Librarians Were Honest”
This is my first memory: A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky wood floor A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply too short For me to sit in and read So my first book was always big In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided To the left side the card catalogue On the right newspapers draped over what looked like a quilt rack Magazines face out from the wall The welcoming smile of my librarian The anticipation in my heart All those books—another world—just waiting At my fingertips. ~Nikki Giovanni "My First Memory (of Librarians)"
There’s a book called
A Dictionary of Angels.
No one had opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered
The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.
Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.
She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.
~Charles Simic “In the Library” from The Voice at 3am
Perhaps in another life and another time, I would have chosen to become a librarian. Some of my best hours/days/weeks/years were spent in old musty buildings among stacks of books towering over me. I believed in the power contained within the covers and could hear the cacophony of voices that oozed from those shelves.
Libraries are heaven for introverts like me who might never see the world except through others’ eyes and words.
I never studied well in a library as I was constantly lured off to discover something new and more exciting than whatever it was I was supposed to read. As a rule, I would search for the most remote carrel in the building, if only to reduce my desire to explore some dark corner and find a book that had not been touched in decades, just waiting for me to pull it down and open it up.
It was a library that led me to drop band class to take a high school forensics where I made it to nationals in interpretive reading. A library introduced me to Stanford University and its libraries encouraged me to apply for wild chimpanzee research in Tanzania. Later in medical school, the medical library stacks fostered my passion for family medicine. Once I was in clinical practice, my library time was limited to specific research for particular patients, but once I became a mother, I took our children regularly to our local library, just to see them delight in picking through the shelves as I once did.
Now I take our grandchildren, who consider the local small town library nearly as wonderful as the nearby play park. The librarian knows them and reserves books she thinks they would love (unicorns and fire engines).
I have too many unread books waiting for me at home to justify checking out books for myself. Still, I know there are many worlds yet to explore; I have so little time left to discover them all. I know I still can be changed…
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