There is a familiar quote from Hamlet which reads: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” But I have to confess, I have done both contentedly all my life-well at least as long as I’ve had a library card that is! I’ve borrowed countless books, donated others, and lent the checked out books to friends, (as long as they make it back before the dreaded due date).
It was a happy day-the day l learned to read. Finally the undecipherable typed shapes and squiggles of secret-book code transformed into something I recognized, forming simple, easy, sound-out-loud-able words. Thanks to my teacher and her phonics elf, (a hand-puppet helper) I was actually reading!!! No more picture book section at the library, from now on it was easy-reader all the way for me. Thus started my love of reading and books.
As a kid growing up we had a small library in town, but what a difference that library made in my life. Weekly trips to check out books were a highlight of my summer. We were even allowed to ride our bikes along the muddy ditch bank, till we emerged onto the meandering back roads that led to the town library. We were literally a one stoplight town, but it seemed a big thing to do back then. Our humble library had a resident cat named Figaro. He was known to cat-nap a lot of the time, as most cats do, but he loved, and was beloved by all the library patrons. Often, as you were browsing through the wooden bookshelves, a furry paw would snake through the opposite side and cuff at the books and dust motes. Other times, a prickly, uneasy feeling would descend-until Figaro was spotted playing I spy, his cat-eyes staring down from a high shelf. I’ve never gone into a library since where I didn’t feel the lack–all because they didn’t have an in-house cat.
Besides my tête-à-têtes with Figaro, I loved the smell and feel of the books and quietness of the library itself. I am not a quiet person by nature. Unfortunately, I’m a bit exuberant and chatty. (Back then we didn’t have ADD-well obviously we did-but we didn’t label it so I didn’t know.) The library, like church, is one of those places where even as the doors shut they seem to whisper hush.
My brother, who is two years younger than me checked out the same book every time. Apparently back then there weren’t rules against that, or maybe we just had nice librarians, but Go, Dog. Go!, by P.D. Eastman was his book of choice. That book is still a treasured favorite in our family today. I loved the Ramona books, Pippi Longstocking, and Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins, and the Five Little Peppers. Too many favorites to count.
Checking out the books was an adventure in itself. Using a tiny yellow pencil, I loved signing my proper name on the line of the check-out card inserted in the little pocket inside the book. The check out card had a wealth of information, the names and dates of everyone who had previously checked out the book. Sometimes, I would recognize the name of a school mate. Other times, (after a long break, because I didn’t want the librarian to think I was a weirdo like my brother,) I would check out the same book again to see my own name from the past on the card. The librarian would stamp it firmly with her date stamp, and crisply remind me of the date due two weeks hence.
We loved it so much that we would often play pretend library when we were with the neighbor kids, and believe you me, I made sure I got plenty of turns as head librarian with those rubber stamps. Those were simpler times, and I was a simple kid. Truth be told, I still prefer the books of my childhood. I can’t think of any learned skill that’s brought me more pleasure than my learning to read. (Well, maybe talking.)
Libraries are a wonderful shared gift. Everyone’s welcome, and you can learn about anything absolutely free! Libraries are constantly evolving way beyond their original purpose- books. You can check out videos, access all types of music, attend a class or seminar, or simply use their computers. They are schools where you determine the curriculum, and provide lifelong learning.
One of the most neighborly and community-friendly things I’ve ever seen is a Little Free Library, also known as a pop-up library, or a neighborhood book exchange. A Little Free Library is a book container, barely bigger than a bird-feeder, usually on a post or a tree, and it is a book swap; where books are borrowed, returned and donated, all on the honor system. The original Little Free Library was a small wooden school house atop a post, crafted by Todd Bol in 2009 as a tribute to his mother. What better gift to his mother who was a school teacher and loved books, than for him to share her love with others? (I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a little lending library than a tombstone any day!) The mini-libraries caught on, and are popping up in all types of communities: from neighborhoods, to rural areas having no libraries of their own-and in emergencies, to offer respite to those areas recouping from disaster. The Little Free Library’s motto is Take a Book, Leave a Book, putting that old borrower/lender adage to rest-once and for all. September is National Literacy Month, and as my contribution to promote literacy I plan on embracing my shelf life. I think I’ll read a book, or maybe even write a book- okay, I guess I’ll stick to writing a blog. And hopefully, someone out there somewhere is reading it.
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be –
I had a Mother who read to me.
Check it out:
If you build it they will come-(Little Free Library Plans)