"Your library is your paradise." -Erasmus
There are few cases in which being disorganized or not on time makes me feel good about myself. Honestly, I can only think of one particular case, which happens to be reoccurring.
I am notoriously bad at returning books to the library on time. There have only been one or two times that the library charges were off. Once a book was returned, reshelved but not properly checked in. That actually happened twice. Did I get miffed? A tad bit, but it was resolved swiftly when I produced the book that had been declared missing. It was several spaces out of place on the shelf and the librarians were just getting used to a computer system. The librarian was cool about it. Librarians are cool, as a rule, I think.
Richmond, Indiana has several libraries. There are small libraries in our schools, campus libraries, even a few churches have libraries. Between my husband and I, we have quite our own library, but the public library is my special favorite. I remember going to Morrison Reeve's Library with my dad. I remember staring down the antique spiral staircase on display in the lobby and making myself dizzy. I remember the imposing portrait of the founder, the colorful displays in the children's library. I even remember the voice of the children's librarian as I filled out my first library card. I had the same library card for years. I did not get a new one until I was a teenager. It made me embarrassed to see the terrible signature of a six year old unaccustomed to signing and unaccustomed to such a formal strike of individuality and independence. Was it the first time that I felt like my own person? It seems likely. Now that I am older, I wouldn't mind still having that dog eared, beige card and I would not feel so embarrassed though I have a crisp, white one with a more careful cursive signature in my wallet today.
The libraries always impacted me through the books that were chosen to grace their shelves and by the experiences I had through our special lending systems. The first time I lost a school library book and the burning shame I felt upon discovering it on our family shelf, too late. Was I now a thief? The time a young girl held the bar open for me at the exit, and I got my first and only (thus far) black eye. Ah the perils of an avid early reader! The time I was terribly bored in the RHS library and discovered a very old book that helped foster my love of etymology. Every time a librarian ever shushed. The smell of the books, the dust jackets, the millions of lives I feel that I've led personally and the millions of endings I have grieved over in books. The feeling of care when carefully preserving a text and hopefully returning it so that it will be there again, not just for me but for every member of this community. Immortality is unattainable, but one can at least taste it in books.
Many years later I discovered other gems, first Lily Library on Earlham campus followed by IU East's library. I loved to study at Lily. I loved the newness of it. At MRL, I always seemed to gravitate to the same sections. I know the map by genre and subject. At Lily, all of the books and all of the layout was new. It was where I discovered philosophy. Seeing Des Cartes, Nietzche and Spinoza lined up- such strange names, not knowing how to pronounce them and the difficulty of trying to absorb them all and yet being magnetized again, believing that if I could just retain and know pieces it would be better than not ever trying. It was where I soaked up history, I recall stories of monks leaping from balconies as crowds of the religious cram inside a building to view perhaps the toe of a saint or a fragment of the cross- not even standing room only at such an event! I remember turning summersaults and picnicking on the lawn outside, after hours of poring over books and combing for details. IU's library experience was much more utilitarian, as I only used the library as needed for assignments. Maybe to find a textbook for class- always indispensable and there when I needed it.
Each library is special in its own way. But MRL is the first for me.
Have you ever been to a community that has no public library? I have, and where there is no public library there is a strange emptiness that I could not live with there. So when I bring my books in, often late, we happily pay a fee because our library has always been there for me and today it is there for my children, as it should be. And we remain ever thankful and grateful that knowledge at a library is free.