As I wrote yesterday, I’m posting a couple of “reading tales” about learning to love books in honor of Dewey’s Read-a-Thon tomorrow. Yesterday featured A Reading Tale — Guest Post by a friend of mine, Kathy Carlton Willis. We grew up in the same town — she mentioned our wonderful library. Here’s another story about that place.
The stone building that housed my hometown public library seemed a castle filled with books when I was twelve. Walking up the steps to the bright red double doors, I approached the entrance to a place of magic.
The previous summer, I exhausted the library’s small collection of books for children by finishing the L. Frank Baum series of Oz books. I wanted to advance to the adult room for more books. In particular, after reading my mother’s copy of Little Women over the winter, I was eager to read Little Men.
With both hands and leaning back my body for counterweight, I pulled the iron handle of the heavy door while crafting a plan to prove my worthiness for the adult room. Once through the foyer, two sensations rushed over me, the refreshing coolness of air conditioning and the comforting smell of books. After nodding to the librarian as a greeting, I went to the children’s shelves to search for my book. As I remembered, Frank L. Baum filled much of one shelf. Scanning back to the authors beginning with A, there was no Alcott.
The card catalog was next to the children’s shelves. I’d never consulted it at the public library, but we learned how at school. Trusting it to be similar, I slowly slipped open the drawer marked ‘Authors A,’ trying to minimize the sound of sliding wood in the quiet room. A card for Little Men told me that the library owned a copy. Then I was stuck. The organization of the adult room remained a mystery to me and I was unsure if I could be stopped for entry without permission. I wrote the call number, simply the first three letters of the author’s last name, on the provided scrap paper as I learned in school.
I approached the wood counter behind which Mrs. Sterne ruled all she saw, the children’s shelves, the card catalog, and the entrance to the adult room. “Yes?” she glanced up from the stack of books that she sorted onto a library cart.
“I’m looking for Little Men by Louisa May Alcott,” I said in a rush, holding up my slip with the letters ALC on it.
“Fiction is through the door, along the wall, alphabetical by author. The A’s start on the right.”
Apparently, there was no protocol. All I had to do was cross the threshold and I would be in the adult room with a vista of books, ten times as many as in the children’s section. I scurried through the doorway before Mrs. Sterne could change her mind.
Once out of her line of sight, I found the copy of Little Men that I craved and was thrilled to discover several other books with ALC on the spine: Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, and Rose in Bloom. Alone except for a man absorbed in his study of books open on the table in front of him, I took a few moments to explore this new space. Tip-toeing down the alphabet of dark wood shelves built into plastered walls, I passed the novels of Victoria Holt and Emilie Loring, all the way to Elswyth Thane shelved next to the portrait of Andrew Carnegie over the unused fireplace.
Clutching Little Men, I walked sedately, as befitted a newly-minted initiate to the inner sanctum of the library, to the counter to check out my first book from the adult shelves at the Louisiana Public Library in Louisiana, Missouri.
What are your early memories of libraries?