Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Trip to the Library
I have always loved bookstores, but my relationship with libraries has been more fickle. As a kid, I loved going to the big library in Pennsauken with my dad. It felt enormous, and I nursed a mixture of excitement and nervousness as I navigated the seemingly huge children's section on my own while my dad looked for books in another country (also known as the fiction section, a few aisles away).

We moved to Haddonfield when I started middle school (junior high back then), and I spent my eighth grade year as a "page" in the children's room of the Haddonfield Public Library. I got to check out books in both senses of the word -- I manned the check-out desk and, when things were slow, I took advantage of that time to peruse the shelves, looking for something new to read. I loved that job -- one that fed both my teenage desire to be important (I got to check out the books!) and my love of reading.

I also loved that library. In addition to the many books I took home with me, I discovered Plays magazine there -- issue after issue tucked away along the walls of a small, drafty room that was little more than a hallway leading to a door on the Haddon Avenue side of the library.

Sometime in high school, the passion began to fade. The library became a very serious place, one I associated with research and term papers. Though I still checked out books for pleasure reading, most of my visits were spent in the small room by the stairs, paging through the thick volumes of magazine indices and squinting at the microfiches, taking notes on stacks of index cards. Given my druthers, I would have preferred to sit in cushy chairs in the sunny magazine room at the front of the library, and some days, I snuck away to do just that.

I was much too chatty to study at the library; on at least one occasion, my friends and I got seriously shushed by a reference room librarian who wasn't convinced that our enthusiasm had anything to do with what we were studying. (As I recall, it had more to do with a boy who may or may not have been in the library at the time -- a sad, but true assessment of my priorities at the time.)
In college, the library and I grew even farther apart. I rarely studied there, preferring to do my homework in more social venues, though I probably would have gotten more accomplished had I gone to visit my old friend. We had a brief rendez-vous when, as a junior taking my first education class, I discovered the curriculum section, filled with the children's materials I had loved years before. But once again, we weren't meant to be. The thrill was gone.

And then last Friday, I found myself in Schmidt Library at York College. I was headed up the stairs to find a place to work when the familiar library smell hit me. Books -- lots of them -- neatly and meticulously shelved, yet intermingled. New books with tidy plastic covers beside old books with crumbling yellowed pages beside slim, yet heavy volumes filled with photographs and maps and artwork. All here. In one place. Filled with possibility.

When I got to the second floor, I discovered I was in the Quiet Zone, a place I had shunned as both a teenager and a college student. There were cushy seats (still my workspace of choice when I am reading or working with hard copies), but mostly there carrels.

I blame the heady smell of serious work and reading materials, because there's no other explanation for what happened next. I sat down. In a study carrel.

I had a vivid flashback to my high school library. Passing notes written in mirror language with my red-haired friend Janet. (Notes that, I might add, would later cause my demise with -- you guessed it -- a certain boy, who was most definitely not in the library at the time).

I wracked my brain. Had it really been nearly 40 years since I'd parked myself at a study carrel? Surely, in college...but no. My seat of choice in college had been a desk on one of the mezzanines where I could look out at what was going on below me when I got bored (which was often).

Sitting there in the library last Friday, all the old feelings came flooding back, and I remembered the good times. And, with the wisdom that comes with age and the passing of time, I appreciated them -- even the silence. Perhaps especially the silence.

When you're fifteen, silence is anathema. (I know this because I live with a fifteen-year-old). A quiet library is a place for serious students and grouchy librarians who have nothing better to do than squelch the fun of lively, enthusiastic (and perhaps -- just perhaps -- hormonal) teenagers.

But when those digits are reversed, silence is a gift. One that allows you to think, to plan, to create. One that can always be captured in a library.

Maybe the thrill isn't gone after all. Maybe -- just maybe -- there's another library rendez-vous in my future.

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