Flashback Fridays: Once Upon a Library

So, something different today.  It’s National Library Week and it’s got me thinking about what libraries mean to me, and have meant to me over the years.


Readers, do you remember your first library card?

Do you remember a children’s librarian or a school librarian reading books to you . . . and the written world opening up?

Do you remember scanning the bookshelves so full of possibilities and trying to figure out the one or two books you’d bring home that week?

Oh, I hope you do.  I hope that you had the glorious opportunity to spend time at the library and with librarians as a child.  This is the place that hands the keys of discovery to kids and adults and tells you to go unlock things at will.

When I was a kid, it was at a time where there was no internet.  A time when the books all had pockets and were stamped by hand with due dates.  Where card catalogs were the norm.  I went to picture book read-aloud when I was four.  It’s a program you’ll still find at libraries today.  You know what?  I still remember sitting there, in the slightly darkened room and listening to Miss Deere the librarian read me Where the Wild Things Are, The Story of Ferdinand, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly . . . and many others.  The library was responsible for me bringing home armfuls of new books for my mother to read, some of them I fell in love with and insisted we check out again and again.  Bread and Jam for Frances, Dandelion, Katy and the Big Snow . . .


Oh, we had books on our shelves at home.  Mostly books from my mother’s own childhood that she’d read us repeatedly, but owning new books was a luxury that didn’t come around very often.  Without the library, I’d never have had access to those books and stories.  What a poorer story bank I would possess in my memory!

I was slow coming round to reading.  I think part of it was stubbornness because I’d been told to sound out words in order to “read” and I found that a lot duller than stories I’d memorized or could make up.  But my 7th birthday brought enlightenment in the form of Go Dog Go by P.D. Eastman.  Given the book by my aunt, I had no one to read it to me, and so had to read it myself.  I did so . . . and my stubborn brain lit up with the realization that recognizing words was key.  It was like a fast spreading fire.  Books opened up to me and words spilled out into my lap and I drank until I was tipsy with stories.  But my small collection of books at home could hardly satiate my reading hunger.  That brought me back to the library with new purpose.  Not for books for my parents to read to me, but books for me to read.


Oh the incredible delicious realization that all those titles on the book shelves are just waiting for you!  I rapidly devoured picture books and easy readers and plunged into the fiction section with ferocity.  I’d bring home piles of books–whatever caught my eyes and fingers as I pulled things from the shelves.  I remember getting to the library, being given permission to go off and browse and racing to the fiction section to sit between two aisles of books and find a treasure trove.  My library card and visits became about personal discovery, worlds that none of my family had explored before me.    Like my public library, my school library welcomed me.  The school librarian read us all sorts of books that stick in my mind (some of them I’ve forgotten the titles to and it drives me crazy!). I was surrounded with books: and I didn’t have to pay a dime to spend time with them.

As I grew older tough times with other kids gave me less confidence and less places I felt safe.  But the library was always there to welcome me.  I would ride my bike the ten minutes to the building and spend the Summer days sprawled on the carpeted reading area with a handful of books that were always ready to be replenished.  I explored the (just beginning) Young Adult shelves, the nonfiction (both children’s and adult),  and then I found the Science Fiction Fantasy section.   A long aisle filled to the brim with titles in my favorite genre.  I could run my hands down the titles and pull at random, then sit in a quiet corner and read.  The librarians all knew me and put up with me yammering about my latest books–always adding their own suggestions.   I felt appreciated and at home, and I dove into worlds and times beyond any I’d dreamed.  Fell into other authors minds and yearnings and learned who I was in the midst of it all.

It’s not so uncommon nowadays for people to speak of libraries being obsolete or irrelevant.  They often picture archaic institutions like those in old movies where the bun-haired librarian stalks silent tables of readers and commands silence and stillness in a dusty book-filled space.  They often don’t imagine child sized furniture, masses of computers and DVDs.   They don’t think about read-aloud programs and art programs and theatrical productions.  They don’t consider English Language classes, after school programs, tutoring sessions and field trips.  And you know what else?  The books are still there.  The books are pouring into the shelves and filling them breathlessly.  Today I’m a children’s librarian in a busy, inner-city library branch where we are often full to capacity.  Obsolete? For whom?  Surely not the new parents hoping for books and information what to read to their children to be.  Surely not the school-age children with their homework projects, reading practice and newly discovered hunger for reading?  Surely not adults in need of places to tap free Wi-Fi and have quiet and shelter for their work or play.  Surely not those needing a book title, or information, or services that the library can direct them to?

Authors are discovered here, and their fandoms grow because kids and adults can read their books here. We have musical concerts, theater events, science programs.  And we offer it all for free.  FREE folks.    The public library isn’t a subscription based service that ends if you don’t keep up your payments.  We don’t require a membership or an entry fee to come in.  It doesn’t matter if your there for research, relaxing, writing, playing,  or just want to come in out of the heat or cold for a little while.  Come in!

Readers, when was the last time you stopped in at your local library? Please remember to support them and encourage others to do the same.


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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on April 17, 2015, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. The first book I read as a child was also “Go Dog Go.” My library card was blue, with rounded corners and a small metal bar along the top. It came with its own little envelope! It had my name (MY NAME) typed across the top by the children’s librarian!

    Thank you for this lovely post, Stephanie. I enjoyed it immensely!

  2. This post made me smile, Stephanie. When I was in 5th and 6th grade I volunteered in my elementary school library in the mornings before school, shelving books. Oh how I loved it! To this day (despite a generally terrible memory) I can tell you which books were on which shelves in the fiction section. I treasure a book that the librarian gave me as a parting gift when I left the school.

    I, too, have always used libraries as a home away from home, and a place of wonder. Thanks for this reminder!

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