National Library Week is the annual celebration that highlights the role libraries play in our lives and our communities. It’s not just books; it’s lifelong learning. Libraries are community centers that provide meeting spaces and media of all kinds, and we are lucky to have them.
So all this week, the American Library Association is asking for library stories, and here’s where mine starts: At the Florissant Valley Branch of the St. Louis County Library system. I can still remember walking with my mom into the limestone, post-modern building on New Florissant Road with floor-to-ceiling slits for windows, an architectural oddity for the suburbs of the time.
It was the coolest place in town, especially because central air conditioning was also an oddity in the suburbs at the time. Once inside, we were allowed free rein in our favorite stacks. I remember searching for anything by Dr. Suess or with the words “Bobbsey Twins” in the title. Or “Ramona the Pest” and “Encyclopedia Brown,” which eventually gave way to the Little House books and more, and then there was no stopping me.
The library did nothing but give. The library never ran out of books. The library always seemed to be open. You never forget your first library, nor really any library in which you’ve spent time.
I had the privilege of studying at the Library of Congress a few times during my Washington quarter in graduate school. I once walked through the Old Library of Trinity College in Dublin en route to seeing the Book of Kells and thought I died and went to library heaven. I got chills walking into the University of Michigan Law Library the day we dropped off our son at law school.
But my most memorable libraries are the ones I used regularly. The high school library with the silent, smiling nun. The college library with its hidden carrels and study rooms. The late, great Tesson Ferry Branch where I first signed up our boys for the summer reading club. Now, it’s the Oak Bend Branch where I’m a regular in the request shelf section. (I just returned a lovely novel called “Where the Crawdads End.” Get yourself on the list – you won’t regret it.)
And there’s this: a tiny, one-room library that once stood in the basement of an elementary school where I volunteered 15 years ago. Books were checked out with a stamp and a signature, and then shelved and reshelved according to the Dewey Decimal system. It even had a kind but stern librarian, the unforgettable Anne Schurwan, who knew every kid in school by name and what their reading level was.
Nothing fancy or computerized, it was the library as it oughta be simply because of this: It had books and kids who read them.