The Magic of Libraries

There’s been a lot of media about how boys don’t read, and as a whole, our children don’t read.  Now, I have to confess, my children like to read, and do read quite a bit.  Do I censor what they read?  Sometimes, but I also read the books that they did as well.  So there were books, that I would offer as well as the books that they loved, because I wanted them to go past what they were reading.  One thing that there is no lack of in our house, is books.  Sean admittedly, doesn’t have as many books as me.  Neither does Connor, but Katy and I, have a small library of our own.  So when parents complain about their children not reading, I sometimes wonder, how much do the parents read, and do you read with your children?

I’ve been thinking a lot  about how I have come to be the person that I am.  I do think my parents contributed to my deep love of books. My mother read to me constantly, and always was willing to take me to the library and the used bookstore.  My parents also read themselves, so not only did they provide opportunities for me to read, they modeled reading.

One of my earliest memories was of going to the Old library that is now the museum in Fort Collins.  It was a Carnegie Library.  It’s a gorgeous old red sandstone, weathered in all the right places, and the childrens books were in the lower level. To me, it always seemed like a small castle.  I still can remember the smell of the place, a bit dusty and the scent of books, a dry papery scent that still calms me. I remember getting Richard Scarry books that we didn’t own, and we owned a lot of them.  I still have the battered copy of What do People do All Day?  I read it to my children, and while they never *loved* Huckle Cat the way I did, they still liked it.  Connor & Katy actually had a computer game based on Busytown.  (sigh)  But the other favorite of mine was Babar the Elephant.  I loved his stories about him and his wife, Celeste.  His best friend was Zephir the monkey.  They had adventures, but for the three to five year old set, were just thrilling. 

When I was in either first or second grade, a new library was built to the east of the old library.  It’s now known as the Main Library.  I had moved to harder chapter books.  I drove the librarian nuts at Putnam Elementary, because I could read the harder books, and wanted to go to the older kid’s section of books.  I re-member Miss Boutwell running interference with the librarian for me.  Overall we butted heads, primarily because I loved to read, and saw no reason that I needed to understand about syllables and paragraphs.  But she did get the librarian to let me check out books from the older kids section.  That was when I started reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Trixie Belden series and Nancy Drew. I also fell in love with a series of books by Mary Norton, called the Borrowers.

Mary Norton wrote about little people who lived in other people’s houses, who ‘borrowed’ things to live.  Her books opened a whole world of magic and imagination for me.  In fourth grade, a gift from one of my mother’s friends enabled me to buy my own set of those books.  I still have it.  I loved the thought of why a person could never find things in their own home.   Somebody else was borrowing it of course!

I was very lucky in the fact that I had a set of grandparents who loved garage sales. They were always finding me books and buying them for me.  I can’t remember what the occasion was, but one day my mother came home and had bought six books for me.  Of course, she read them to all of us, but I remember the thrill of owning books.

Around fourth grade or so, I remember being at the library with my mother, in fact, it was always my mother who took us to the library.  She would wander the aisles with us in tow, getting us books, and then she would take us up to the second floor and look for books for herself.     That particular day, she handed me a book called Hail Columbia by Patricia Beatty.  Patricia Beatty wrote historical fiction for children.  Her books were sometimes very humorous, but very accurate in their details.  I would check those books out over and over again.

I wish that there was a way to access my records at the Fort Collins Library. They have switched checkout systems several times since I was a child, no more card catalogs, or cards with a metal tag in them, to the computerized bar codes to self check outs.  I would love to know how many books that I have read from there. I always wince when funding for libraries comes under fire.  I love the library.  It is a special place for me.

When people argue against the libraries, I am convinced that they don’t frequent the library.  When I was younger, my mother would have me and my sisters all check out art work from the library, and then we would find out who the artist was and we would check a book out on them.  Today, they offer programs in blogging, writing, the ever popular summer reading programs, even speed dating at the library.  To me a town is only as successful  as it’s library.  It’s the heart of a city.   So when people complain that they can’t get their children to read, I wonder how many of them, take them to the library? How many of them wander the aisles with their children looking at books together, and read them together?

I know our society is becoming far more technologically based, but even with the inventions of Kindles, Nooks, and the Ipad, you are still reading. It forces the reader to imagine what someone looks like, and not have it force fed to you by a video image.  In some ways, I love seeing books made into movies, and in some ways, I regret it.

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