Peeling Back the Years At My Old Public Library

I visited the public library in my hometown over the Christmas holidays. I hadn’t been back in about 15 years.

The children’s section was just as I remembered it. But the rest had changed dramatically.

The building finally got a much needed renovation and expansion, and the adult section I browsed in for so many years has been transformed into offices and a comfortable, quiet reading area.

The adult stacks moved to a new room too. But many of the books were the same. I even managed to find my old card number in the back of several of them — and I still remember taking those books home, what the cover illustrations looked like, and how I sat up all night under a blanket with a flashlight sneaking a read when I was supposed to be sleeping.

Reading has formed the core of my life for as long as I can remember.

My mother likes to say I was the youngest member of the Prescott Public Library. Each time she tells the story it becomes a little more triumphant (and a little less believable): at first I was 5 years old,  then 4, and now in the most recent version I was 2.

I’m pretty sure the truth of the matter is that I was given my own library card a couple years ahead of the minimum age. They made an exception for me because I was borrowing so many books on my mother’s card. And I kept that same number — 4026 — until I went away.

Whatever the case, I remember browsing Astronomy books and being mesmerized by photos of the solar system in grade 1 or 2. Soon to be followed by an obsession with Second World War aircraft.

I also read Tintin as a kid — I loved his adventures in the desert and on the moon. And I got totally hooked on the exploits of the Famous Five by Enid Blyton.

I’ve always had a deep love of books. And even as a troublemaking child I always treated them with the respect they deserved.

We moved to James Street when I was in the second grade, and from that point until I moved away to university, the library was right around the corner. I could see the building from my bedroom window.

I went to the library a lot over the years. To borrow large stacks of books, of course. To research whatever topic had just sparked my imagination. To get out of the house and get some space. And sometimes I went there just for the atmosphere — the musty smell of old books, the soft tread of my sneakers on worn green carpet, the weight of the silence.

Sure, every once in a while I’d meet one of my friends, and as often as not Susen or Mrs. Steiner would kick us out for giggling. But most of the time I went there alone.

When I got a little older, I started going to the library to leaf through travel magazines and books about other countries. The larger world seemed a long way away from my insular small town life. I passed entire Saturday afternoons in the padded chairs of the adult section taking exotic journeys that occurred solely in my imagination. It would be many years before I ever set out there for real.

I could always remember when I first read a particular book — what was happening in my life at that time, what I thought, how I saw the world, and how I felt. To walk through the stacks of my old library and browse the books was to revisit the chronicle of my growth into the person I have become. And finding my old card number written in the back also allowed me to date my reading with archaeological precision.

Here are a few photos of my visit. They probably mean a lot more to me than they will to you. But I hope they call up a few memories of your own childhood reading, and maybe some images of your own library past.

I can't remember how many hundreds of times I walked through that front door — always with a sense of anticipation for whatever new discovery was waiting for me that day...

I can’t remember how many hundreds of times I walked through that front door — always with a sense of anticipation for whatever new discovery was waiting for me that day…

The old office is gone and the desk has moved...

The old office is gone and the desk has moved…

...and the adult section moved to a new room too...

…and the adult section moved to a new room too…

...now THAT'S how I remember it!

…now THAT’S how I remember it!

Looking at photos of the renovation with Susen (who used to kick me out for giggling)...

Looking at photos of the renovation with Susen (who used to kick me out for giggling)…

I was happy to recognize a few old friends among the stacks...

I was happy to recognize a few old friends among the stacks…

"Ahh, I remember reading that one as a kid!"

“Ahh, I remember reading that one as a kid!”

...finding my old library card number in the back of a book I read when I was 11...

…finding my old library card number in the back of a book I read when I was 11…

...the memories of so many books and childhood dreams came flooding back...

…the memories of so many books and childhood dreams came flooding back…

...and this past year I made my own contribution too...

…and this past year I made my own contribution too…

...hopefully my own work will fuel the dreams of some other kid who felt stuck in a small corner of a much larger world...

…hopefully my own work will fuel the dreams of some other kid who felt stuck in a small corner of a much larger world…

And here’s a short video of the room, and finding 4026 scribbled in the back of another old friend:

 

Photos and video © Tomoko Goto 2012

Comments

  1. That’s cool, Ryan! Can’t believe those books still have library cards in the back! Everything’s gone digital over here. No card catalogs to rummage through, only UNIX computers.

  2. linda doris says:

    Hi Ryan

    What a great trip down memory lane! I was sorry to have missed your visit. I guess all your successes can be attributed to our library and your love of books! I share your love of reading and cannot imagine a day going by without carrying my book around with me. I am very proud of you and wish you continued success with your next adventure.

    Linda

    • Ryan Murdock says:

      >I guess all your successes can be attributed to our library and your love of books!

      Definitely. That and my stubborn attempts to avoid a real job.

      -ps- thank you for sneaking in all my overdue books

  3. Susen Kaylo says:

    Ahh, I finally got here to read your blog. It was great!! As Linda already stated, a real trip down memory lane. Except I didn’t realise I was going to be shown on that trip. Egads!! Lol

    Don’t let Linda fool you, Ryan. She’s not a purist anymore. She carries an e-reader around with her. Traitor!

    What is really awesome for us is knowing that the Library had such an impact on your life, and that in a smaller way, we Librarians, might have had a hand in shaping your life to a small degree. And I’m sure you’ll agree that Linda and I are the two best Librarians that you will ever know. 😉

    My fiance, Jeff, from Ohio, has been coming onto your website a lot now, reading the blogs, and checking for new material. He also likes to see the pictures of the Library and me. Silly man! He is really enjoying your writings.

    I’m at work right now reading Outpost magazine 91 Annual Travel Guide. I’ve read both the copies of Outpost you left at the Library. They were an excellent read. I think I may get a subscription for my niece in the Arctic as she is a traveler. (not a tourist). She likes being off the beaten path.

    Anway, tara for now, Ryan. I’ll be baaaack!!
    Cheers, Susen 🙂

    • Ryan Murdock says:

      Hi Susen,

      Glad you enjoyed it. The library definitely had a huge influence on me. All the more reason to retire 4026 Gretzky-style and frame it up on the wall!

      The thing I’m most thankful for in life is my love of reading. It opened so many doors.

      Of course you were the best librarians (except for when you kicked me out!). Tomoko got a bunch of great photos. I can send a file if you like.

      Glad to hear the new Outposts are getting there ok. I should have a big feature in there a bit later this year. Heading off on a Sahara expedition in just over a week.

  4. But more importantly, does it still smell as it did?

    Many many MANY hours spent lost in my head courtesy of that building. Can’t wait to take my kids back to see how many 2912 marks we can find. 🙂

    • Ryan Murdock says:

      It was so cool to see those old cards in the backs of the books. Susen told me they’ll be phasing them out completely soon, so better go while the going’s good!

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