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