Sunday, August 19, 2007

I heart libraries

My first library came on wheels. It was a van full of treasures and visiting it was the highlight of my week. My friend Debbie's mom would gently herd Deb and me, and our two little sisters, through the streets and across traffic to the corner where the bookmobile parked. We would each pick the maximum number of books we were allowed to check out, enough to make our arms ache long before we got back to Deb's house, and we'd be off for another week of literary adventure.

We were binge readers. We read until our brains were bloated, until our eyes swam, until focusing on distant objects was no longer an option. We read until the stories became more real than the world we inhabited. We were bookworms. I'm not sure either of us ever really recovered. We're still friends and we still love libraries.

Since then I've made myself at home in quite a few libraries. I moved away from my hometown in 1970, to an exotic and very small town in southwestern Oklahoma. (Believe me, when you're from central California, small towns in southwestern Oklahoma are exotic.) Shortly after arriving I decided I'd better get a library card. I'm not sure who suffered the most from culture shock during that transaction, myself or the two little old, gray-haired librarians. (Ironically, now I'm a little old, gray-haired librarian -- but I digress.) These two honestly were the very archetype of librarian. Buns in their hair, orthopedic shoes on their feet. And the books - the books! The books were at least as old as the librarians and considerably more dusty. The librarians, of course, were delighted to see me. I was probably the first person to walk in the door in the last twenty years. They would have been delighted if Genghis Khan had walked through that door, providing he confessed to a desire for a library card.

In any case, the librarians, having had only one another to talk to for decades, were understandably curious about me. When they discovered I was from California they exclaimed, "Well, aren't you glad you're in Oklahoma now!" I admitted that I was finding Oklahoma interesting, but I wondered why they thought a California girl, in particular, would be glad to be in Oklahoma. "Why," they announced in unison, "because California is going to have an earthquake and fall into the ocean!" I wasn't sure how to reply to that because I really, really didn't want to admit that, while earthquakes didn't worry me too much, I was pretty scared about the fact that I'd moved to a place where I could be picked up by a tornado and deposited in a tree three counties over. Anyway, the first book I dusted off and checked out was on severe weather. I'm proud to say that there were a fair number of un-dusty books by the time I moved away. And not all of them were on weather.

One of my favorite libraries was the base library on Langley Air Force Base. There was a housing shortage at Langley when we arrived, and we were forced to take up residence in one of a group of quaint little tourist cottages which, for the sake of anonymity, I will call "The Aegean Stables." Our cottage came with a really rich and amazing bouquet of smells and roaches big enough kick serious tourist butt. So the library was my refuge. It was clean, quiet, roachless and it had enough books to keep me busy until we got our very own quarters on base. Which, by the way, came with a really rich and amazing bouquet of smells and roaches big enough to kick serious Air Force butt.

Anyway, I guess it's not really a mystery why I became a librarian.

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