Monday, October 22, 2018

Borrowing Time

Image result for books

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

My memory of reading when I was a kid is that it was more important to me than school. If not more important, it was more interesting. I think most of my teachers would agree that my interests were elsewhere, mostly outside the school windows.

My parents encouraged my reading in many ways even though our home was not filled with books. However, I could always depend on books as gifts. Trips to the local library were special events since we lived in the country and trips to town were purposeful. When I got older a bicycle solved that problem.

The local library, once a gracious home--the Guernsey Memorial Library--was a lovely wooden building with shelves filled with books that seemed not to end, a hushed place. There were tables where you could browse a find and make a decision on whether to check it out or seek another. It was a place where browsers were welcomed...encouraged. The librarian(s), whose names I've long forgotten were friendly and helpful, common characteristics of the profession.

What a big deal it was when I was issued my own library card. It said I was responsible or trusted to be--a proxy indicating that I'd take care of the books I was loaned and that I promised to return them on time otherwise I'd be fined. I never had much loose change when I was a kid so pennies paid as a fine represented an opportunity cost. Those pennies, when accumulated, might represent a soda, especially a Fawn soda and most especially what I regarded as their premier beverage: a cream soda. I know that memory is evanescent but I have never found an equal.

I still have the habit of browsing library shelves somewhat randomly but not whiling away as much time now as I did then. I miss library cards, with their histories of signatures and stamps noting due dates. I still recall one of the pleasures of graduate school: finding a book's date card signed by well known scientists. In one case, I found a card signed by George Beadle, who had been awarded a Nobel prize. In those days, the olden times, university libraries retained books in their collections seemingly forever. I don't know when that became much less common but it has and I find it a loss.

If you have fond memories of libraries, New Yorker writer Susan Orleans wrote an evocative essay titled Growing Up in the Library.  Here is a sample.

Our visits were never long enough for me—the library was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the shelves, scanning the spines of the books until something happened to catch my eye. Those trips were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived. It wasn’t like going to a store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I desired and what she was willing to buy me; in the library, I could have anything I wanted. On the way home, I loved having the books stacked on my lap, pressing me under their solid, warm weight, their Mylar covers sticking to my thighs. It was such a thrill leaving a place with things you hadn’t paid for; such a thrill anticipating the new books we would read. We talked about the order in which we were going to read them, a solemn conversation in which we planned how we would pace ourselves through this charmed, evanescent period of grace until the books were due. We both thought that all the librarians at the Bertram Woods branch were beautiful. For a few minutes, we discussed their beauty. My mother then always mentioned that, if she could have chosen any profession, she would have chosen to be a librarian, and the car would grow silent for a moment as we both considered what an amazing thing that would have been.

Orleans's personal history opens another element to reading: the tension between borrowing and owning. I've become a borrower rather than an owner and make much use of those Little Free Libraries that have popped-up on lawns.
Image result for little free library

I've become a browser again although the shelves are farther apart.

Sempe's New Yorker cover for October 15, 2018 is a tribute to the joy of books.

Little Free Libraries were the idea of Todd Bol (Hudson, Wisconsin). He built the first one in 2009. An essay by Jenna Ross that turned out to be a tribute to his life and his contribution was published October 18, 2018 in the Star Tribune. Mr. Bol died that day of pancreatic cancer. This local action has become a global movement.

Ms. Ross writes that "Bol set a goal of 2,150 — to beat the number of Carnegie Libraries * in the country. Less than a decade later, more than 75,000 dollhouse-size libraries have sprouted on front lawns in 88 countries.
“'I want to see a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand,' Bol said."
*Dr. Kevin Clemens, a former Center for Global Eenvironmental Education (CGEE) Fellow, wrote a book on the surviving Carnegie Libraries of Minnesota (66 were constructed; 48 buildings remain, of which 25 still house libraries. ).  He photographed and provided a description for each library.  Wiki has an entry with photographs of all of the original Minnesota Carnegie Libraries, including one at Hamline that is no longer used as a library but the magnificent entrance was saved.

No comments:

Post a Comment