One of the greatest tragedies of my childhood was not having access to a public library. I grew up in a rural area in south-central Illinois. The closest town, which boasted a population of around 350 people, didn’t have a library. The closest public library was about a twenty to twenty-five minute drive. Since we didn’t live in town, we weren’t entitled to a free library card. My parents didn’t think the library membership was worth the $50 a year considering how little we would get to made the trip.
My parents always made sure we had books to read. We had a full set of encyclopedias. I’ve been told my father used to read to me from the encyclopedia when I was a baby. As I grew older, whenever I would ask my dad a question about the world, he would say, “Let’s look it up.” He would make me figure out for myself which book would have the answer I was looking for, and then he would make me find the correct entry so I would learn how to find answers on my own. Then we would read it together and talk about it. My dad taught me to look for answers and think for myself.
Even though there was no shortage of books and knowledge in my home, the public library still held an air of mystery. I wanted to choose my own books, huge stacks of them, so I would never have to read the same book twice. I had been to the library before but wasn’t able to check a book out without a library card. My elementary school didn’t have a school library. My middle school had a tiny one, but no librarian. I don’t remember anyone ever being allowed to actually use it. The books in that library simply sat and gathered dust.
The first time I visited my high school library during study hall, I checked out Gone with the Wind. The school librarian was impressed when I brought it back less than a week later and had actually read the whole thing. She made sure my name was on the list of students who got the privilege of working in the library during study hall that year, and every year after until I graduated.
Today I am blessed to live in a community that values its library. My town opened a brand new multi-million dollar library building about a year ago. Any books they don’t have, I can usually get within a couple of days thanks to the internet and the inter-library loan system. And it’s all free.
Over the summer, I usually take my kids to the library at least once a week. We typically have anywhere between five and twenty books checked out from the library at any given time. We read all of them. This is in addition to the books my children check out from their school libraries.
One of the greatest library tragedies of my adult life is the easy access most Americans now have to books… and the fact that so few seem to bother reading them. Did you have easy access to books as a child? How has that access (or lack thereof) shaped your adult life? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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