It was a bit of a walk from my house, probably 20 minutes, so not to far, not too close. Long enough to think about the treasures that awaited me when I arrived, but to also take the time to look at flowers and trees, bushes and houses as I walked past. I made sure to look carefully at these wonders of life on the way there – I would not notice these on the way home, I knew, for my nose would be in a book.
Our library was little, and it was ‘new’ – built in 1970. I can still remember the smell, how it felt to be inside the sanctuary of titles, chairs and fake plants, a stillness and quiet that was still expected in a library back in those days. I must have been about 8 or 9 when I started walking there by myself. I relished in books that I was unable to own. Books like “The Bobbsey Twins” series; Enid Blyton’s ‘older reader’ books like “The Famous Five” and “The Secret Seven“; the Hardy Boys series and “Nancy Drew ” series.
I can still remember the thrill one, as one of the two librarians, who knew me by name, gently took me from the children’s section, which was on the right hand side, over the the young adult section, which took up the middle of the small library and bordered the centre square between children’s books and adults. I was thrilled. The spines all had a special marking, a YA handwritten in bold black marker under the clear plastic covering. YA! Young Adult! Me! I felt so grown up. My head was filled with wonder – I did not know there was a middle ground between child and adult.
It was in the YA section, that I discovered Judy Blume with such titles as “Deenie” , “Blubber“, and “Are You There God, it’s Me, Margaret“. Paul Zindel with “The Pigman “; My Darling, My Hamburger . Other YA authors who led me into the world of the ‘normal’ pre-teen. I learned truth through books, my appetite voracious, what happened in main stream families where children had normal problems like fights with siblings, girls who gossiped, or were not invited to Sally’s sleep over. As I grew, the authors grew with me. I learned about girls and female relationships, thanks to Louisa May Alcott. I learned of the love of family in Madeleine L’Engle’s ”A Wrinkle in Time“. J R R Tolkien scared me, but I could not stop the words or images. Like movies, books played in my head – older books, books like “The Secret Garden”, “Old Yeller”, “Anne of Green Gables” . There was ”Bed-Knobs and Broomsticks”. Early Roald Dahl “James and the Giant Peach” .
The library had cream vinyl ‘lounge’ chairs for patrons to sit and read. Very modern, very new. There would often be several men reading a newspaper, or the occasional mother, babe-in-pusher. But for the most part I was alone, with the two library staff. Other girls my age were out with friends, playing sport or off in their ‘clubs’. I, however, was in the library – but you can bet your money that I too was with the popular girls doing their same weekend and after school fun, just through pages of a book.
Later on, once again older, the librarians showed me how to use the 3 x 5 index card system. What a revelation this was. I could now find other books written by the same author! I could read similar books! I could look for my favourite genres (oh, how I loved that word when I learned it – genre… so soft, so important sounding, so grown up – I still love that word) simply by looking at the coloured dot that had been carefully shaded in pencil on the index card, to match the plastic sticky dot on the book spine. I learned how to find genres in the adults section – where ‘M’ for Mystery – was, and is still my favourite haunt.
Such authors as Agatha Christie, Paul Harris, and later – much much later, Stephen King, I was hooked. Agatha opened my eyes to the world, Her characters – Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot – traveled to exotic places around the globe and met with the most dastardly people, who often died most dastardly deaths. Arsenic. Poison. Oh, that bitter smell of almonds. By Jove, I think I got it.
Each visit. when I filled my old vinyl school bag with the chosen titles, I would progress to the library counter where she – and it was always a she – would stamp the inside cover sheet with a date stamp and purple ink. Each book had a card in it and a slip of paper. When a book was to be borrowed/lent out each piece of paper would be stamped and dated, the card kept in their index system where it would be manually returned to the book when the book was returned. They were always careful to check that date on the manual rollover pad before they pressed the ink onto the book. “Due back by…” Each book would have to lay open for a few seconds, to let the ink dry.
These days, I whip down to the local library and collect my holds, where I have them reserved via the online system “Library Elf”. They are checked out via a computer self check – a quick swipe of my card and a few ‘bips’ on the self check machine. I always stop and chat to a few of the staff – although there are way too many there to know them all personally - there are several who share my passion and reserve special treats and treatment for our little clique, those who still have passion for the the old books, authors and the secret world found inside covers.
Oh and on the way home, you can still find me, nose in book.