Just Call Me “Marian….. the Librarian….”

Just thinking…

It’s 7:45 am, and I am sitting in the library here at the college where I teach, waitng for my 8:00 class to begin their research papers. Some are here already, browsing their notes. Others are at the computers, looking for evidence sites, or going through newspapers and reference works.

The library is a comforting and welcoming place, right down to the cushioned chairs and sofas, and the kleenex boxes on the tables. This particular library used to be a chapel on this once-Catholic campus, and the stained glass glows. Soft murmuring surrounds me, and I hear occasional hisses, beeps and bings from copy machines and phones.

Technology aside, this library is no different from other school libraries tht I have frequented over the years. I began school in a one-room rural Iowa school. The library was a few shelves of books and a set of The Book of Knowledge, copyright around 1915 (which asserted that the age of major invention and discovery was over!).

Those same shelves also held a radio, over which our weekly music lesson was broadcast. Even as a kindergartner, I formed the habit of first reading my reading/literature book all the way through as quickly as possible, and then proceed to reading the library, book by book. (By the way, my teachers hated it when I finished my lit books in the first couple weeks of school!!). I had a choice of reading at my little seat and desk that were bolted to the floor, or sittiing at the little wooden bench at the back of the room, just under the coat hooks. I was partial to the bench, just because it gave variety, and also because it was closer to the library shelves. When the school closed at the end of my second grade, my father bough the books in the library; I cherished them.

In third grade, my one-roomer was consolidated into a village school. Now there were two classrooms, and I was not the only one in my class. There were three of us, and I was the bookworm of the trio. The second floor of this school gave hints as to the grandeur and opulence that once marked this village. It contained both a theatre with a stage and backstage, and a large library. For the first time, I could read a play and know exactly how it should look on stage. The library was lined with floor to celing shelves, filled with books. The ony unfilled space was a window with a window seat, where I could sit and read. (And one of the selling points of my current home was that it had a window seat…). I remember looking at a book called Lorna Doone and being frustrated that I didn’t understand all of it, similar to the frustration I had when as a 4th grader, I tried to read and understand Mein Kampf. (At that time, I had no idea of who Hitler was and what he stood for, and had only a vague understanding of war.).

A specific memory I have of this time was that I developed a love for dictionaries (and I still collect dictionaries!). It seemed that my love of reading and love for words and their histories and mysteries went together. One day in 4th grade, the teacher was showing us some slides (this was heady stuff for us back then…) of fish swimming upstream. This one particular slide had a word on it: “weir.” The teacher said that it had obviously been misspelled and should be “wire.” I immediately raised my hand and said no, it was “weir,” which meant a woven fence that kept the fish from going too far. The teacher insisted that it was wire, so I kept silent. But I checked out my dictionaries, and I was right; it was “weir.” Reading had drastically improved my vocabulary.

When I fiinished 6th grade, I had to move on to the town school. The county decided to consolidate the village school and take all the assets. The PTA mothers, who had bought those maps and aquariums and books with proceeds from soup suppers and cake walks and carnivals, were incensed. We received a phone call, asking us to show up at the school at a certain time on a certain day. The PTA mom with the school key unlocked the doors and invited us to come in annd take whatever we wanted. They didn’t intend to leave anything for the county superintendent to seize. My heart leaped, as I thought of the library and all those books. But my mother said we could only take a few items. In my armful was Lorna Doone.

The library for the town school was presided over by an old maid whose biggest worry seemed to be unclean hands I remember her inspectng my hand, knuckles and nails, when I came into the library, and once she sent me out to wash. How humiliating…. But to this day, I make sure my hands are clean when I handle a book.

This library was the largest I had ever been in For the first time, I saw vertical files (which probably don’t exist anymore), and I began what I called “reading jags.” I would go off on a jag of reading certain authors, or on a jag of readng on certain topics Frustrated that the next book on my list was sometimes missing, I volunteered to work in the library. It gave me frst shot at reading new holdings, and also to watch for the books I wanted to be returned. One such book was Miracle at Carville, about a US leper colony. Fascinated by the topic, i began to devour every book I could find about leprosy.

Another book from this era that impacted my thinking was Gone With the Wind. The book riveted me and I read it in three days, which include a flashlight in bed, andd reading it while on the school bus. I WAS Scalett O’Hara! I was compelled to watch the movie,as the dashing Rhett Butler swept away Scarlett, compelled to read more Civil war era books, compelled to later in life visit Civil war battlefields and antebellum homes, compelled to laugh until I cried at Carol Burnett’s rendition of the dress made out of the green drapes (complete with curtain rod), compelled to read the sequel.

During this same time period, I learned of the county library and the town library. The town library was a Carnegie library. I can still remember walking up the majestic steps, turning to the right and being in the children’s area, with the wonderful series of Dr. Dolittle books of the animals, and the Robert Heinlein series of science fiction. I discovered the Box Car Children and others by Lois Lenski. I read Bobbsey Twins and Hardy Boys and Donna Parker series. Later, I would turn to the left and go into the reading room with the tall leather wing chairs and snuggle down to read until I fell alseep. It was my favorite place to wait for my mom when we went to town!

The county library was at the courthouse, and the rule was that if I lived in the country then I could check out 6 books at a time (the assumption was that we had a harder time getting back and forth into town, so we needed more books at one whack). That was fine with me. I would load up my six books, go home and have them read in a couple of days. So I returned those six, and checked out another six. One day the librarian said to me, “Honey, if you aren’t going to read them, don’t check them out.” I was crushed; I WAS reading them, and had no idea that others did not read as fast as I did.

After high school graduation, I headed down to Missouri for college. The library there was huge, at least to me. It was filled with art, and we could even check out the art and take them to our dorms to enjoy. What a radical idea! I was thrilled at the size and holdings of this library, but unfortunately, didn’t have the time to pleasure-read as I had had in the past. The library became a place to get work accomplished, but not necessarily a place to enjoy and relax. It’s unfortunate that this is so.

Then I moved on to teaching, and taking my students to school libraries. Again, it was a job and I didn’t have the warm relaxing time in them to enjoy the pleasures of the books. Another unfortunate situation. My work took my to the large university libraries in St. Louis where I was in awe of the architecture in addition to the books.

Now I’m retired, sort of. I continued teaching a few night classes or a couple of day classes for local colleges. Then we moved to Iowa last year. I was hired by the local college here to teach a couple classes per term. It’s been great, but I’m ready to really retire now. So here I am in the library with the stained glass around me, ready for my last group of students that I will ever take to the library. They don’t have time now to really enjoy the pleasures of this wonderful place; they are too busy gathering research to support their thesises. But someday…… oh, I wish for someday for them to be able to walk in, browse, read, almost fall asleep. This new town in which I live has a wonderful Carnegie library, also. It has majestic columns in front and a top that reminds me of the St. Louis Planetarium. It’s filled with wonderful little niches with diverse and fascinating books. I may just go there after I retire and fall asleep….

Father, I praise You for giving me the time to read. Thank you for the many people in my life who have encouraged me and challenged me to read. Thank you for the upcoming season of my life where I will have more leisure to read. Amen.

To God be the Glory,

Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

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