Tuesday, April 12, 2016


group post

It's National Library Week and we're celebrating at Writing Wyoming by sharing memories of our favorite library/libraries. 

For the Love of a Library
by Lynn Carlson: 

At the corner of 5th and Main, in Lusk, Wyoming, sits the Niobrara County Library. It was built in 1919 with the help of funds from Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-born philanthropist. My paternal grandmother, Nellie Snyder Griffith, was one of the women who pushed for the project. When women like that decide to do something, you can bet it gets done.

When I was a little girl, I lived across the street from this big brick building and I didn’t know or care about any of its history. What I cared about was that I could cross over 5th street with my two sisters—looking both ways, of course—and climb up the big semicircle of stairs.

I could push open the giant door and enter a warm-in-winter and cool-in-summer space that smelled like ink, leather and furniture polish.

I could disappear into the stacks, squat down next to the shelves in the children’s section and run my finger along the spines of books until one of them said, “Me—pick me!” Books with names like Ozma of Oz, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Hidden Staircase and The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.

I could stretch out on my belly on the floor and look at books with photographs of chimpanzees, metal bridges or amoebas.

I could be quiet and sit in a corner and run my fingers over the smooth pages of magazines.

Best of all, I could select a book and slide it over the tall wooden desk to Mrs. Tyrrel and she would thunk a stamp on the inside of the front cover. Then I could hug my treasure to my chest and go back home and tuck myself inside a new world.

Growing Up There Were Three Libraries in My Life
by Tom Spence: 

The first was the “bookmobile,” a library in a van which periodically visited Mountain View School on the western boundary of Fort Collins, Colorado. There I chose books deemed by the itinerant librarian/van driver, to be too “old” for me. She was probably right, but the books for my age were too simple, and illustrated. I believed words without pictures made me a serious reader.

Later, I prowled the stacks of the Laramie (Wyoming) High School library hoping to meet the girl I wished for a girlfriend, and as a ruse I looked at random titles and did obligatory research.

The third library was the Carnegie Public Library, if memory serves, on Grand Avenue and 5th Street. I did not expect to meet a girlfriend there, so I did my homework, and looked into the magazines: Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, Popular Science. There, after football or wrestling practice, I waited for my father to come from work at the cement plant to drive us home to the country. My sister would have dinner on the table.

My true appreciation of libraries came later, slowly, when I realized that the collection and collation of words, kept in a building, under a roof, and available, was an everyday wonder. And now I fall in love with every librarian who keeps and catalogs, guards and promotes the various manifestations of our printed language, and our right to use it.

Libraries in My Life
by Art Elser:    

I grew up in a very rural area, farms and woods. I do not remember being read to as a child. My father was a man who believed in utility, so there were not many books in the house, a set of Twain and one of Dickens, which were never taken down and read. I started grade school in 1941, and our three-room school had no library.

My first library experience was in high school. I grew up wanting to be a pilot—lots of military airplanes flying over our house during WWII. Then I discovered that our high school library had books written about flying, great pilots, and about the colorful barnstorming era between the two world wars. I think I read every book on flying in that library. That's when I fell in love with books. So that library led me into reading books for my several careers that included being a USAF pilot, an English teacher, a senior technical writer and manager, and, after retirement, a poet. So many books, so little time.

I                                                 Pickler
by Jennifer Top:

Call me a romantic, but it really was love at first sight when I walked into Pickler Memorial Library at what was then Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University). The original building, like almost all the buildings on the small, picturesque campus, was done in red brick. When they expanded the library, they left the exterior walls in place to become rustic interior walls, still lit up by the sun via massive windows and skylights in an open atrium three stories high.

There was a staircase that spiraled around the elevator shaft, and something about that staircase in that configuration made each flexing of my leg muscles seem . . . important. Going up, anyway. Coming down was like bobsled practice as my feet recklessly skipped down the steps and my hand skimmed the rail or the glass walls of the cylinder to counteract the centrifugal force.

One semester I was a TA for my favorite literature professor, and while putting in some of my work hours I innocently perused the sticky notes scattered around his desk. The phrase “Women in Love” caught my eye, so I dug around a little more and also saw “Sons and Lovers.” The titles alone had my attention, so, off I went to Pickler to find out what they were all about.

I found them in the computer system and made my way upstairs, each strand of muscle fiber urging me onward. I found a lot more titles for DH Lawrence, and after a few minutes I was skipping back down the stairs with a stack that included those titles plus Lady Chatterley’s Lover and a thick collection of poems. The student worker checking me out at the front desk smiled knowingly (or so I thought later), then asked politely if I needed all these for a class. I replied with a rather self-conscious “no.”

Ironically, perhaps, I rarely went to the library to do homework. I went there instead for mini-vacations (sadly it was many years after I left before the library became even more amazing and installed a Starbucks). My obsession with Lawrence never really died, either. Back then I knew his spot on the shelf by heart, so often I would stop by and pick up the book of poems that I’d since turned in. Then I would grab a comfy chair by the railing in the center atrium area overlooking the old brick and wonder where life and love would take me.

La Grange, Illinois
by Judy Schulz:

When I first climbed the grey cement steps, I had to lift each foot high in ascending the treads, the kind of lifting you felt burn in your thighs by the time you reached the top.

The dark oak doors were thicker than my arms put together and required more strength than I had to open them by myself. Mom took me. As I rushed in under her arm, I could hardly wait to take a breath. Nothing, nothing welcomed me more than that first deep drawing in of air through my eager nostrils: pages out of old books. That’s what it smelled like to me and the aroma was like a magical elixir to all ills that spread out over the rooms encompassing towering shelves of horizontal bindings all lined up and systemized for anyone to approach, for anyone to touch and take home and savor the turning of pages as a new story captured them for as long as it lasted.

Mom allowed me to take home a tall stack of volumes; she knew of but did not acknowledge my nightly flashlight-under-the-covers routine. She knew that even if I constantly lost my roller skate key, I would never lose a book. Berry’s Peter Pan, Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Kejelgaard’s Big Red, Sewell’s Black Beauty, so many joyful experiences filled my mind and heart. These characters befriended me then and others have continued to throughout my life.

Many years passed before I realized that this place meant the same to many, many others. How strange to think I alone had discovered this kingdom. The Carnegie Library, built with a $12,500 grant in La Grange, Illinois, in 1903, was my haven and refuge from grade school through high school graduation in 1964.

When I returned to La Grange after college, when I began to take my own sons to the public library for the adventure in the early 1970’s, the Carnegie building was gone—lost to modernization and expansion in 1968.

It didn’t smell the same….

Library Scavenger
by Susan Vittitow Mark:

It must have been my senior year in high school when I was given a scavenger hunt assignment for information at the University of Dayton Library. My eyes went wide when I walked in. So big! I thought I'd died and gone to library heaven. I think there were six floors, one devoted solely to the Mother Mary (Catholic college).

I went from floor to floor, navigating the maze of stacks, awestruck by how much it contained. I ended up going to the University of Dayton and studying history. At one point, I lived directly across the street from the library in "off-campus housing," better known as "the UD Ghetto."

My junior year, I did my major research paper on Gamal Abdel Nasser, the second president of Egypt. I became intimately acquainted with the bound journals floor. They were rolling stacks, controlled manually by turning the handles on the endcaps. I always wondered whether I'd get inadvertently squished by another researcher wanting the next set of shelves, but there were very few students up there.

In those pre-computer days, I'd peruse the green-bound 1950s volumes of the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature before heading to the stacks for the popular magazines of the times. I didn't just find the articles I was seeking -- I got a feel for the entire era. "Drive more because each mile costs less!" proclaimed one ad.

Another time, I sat on the floor with an article that reassured the reader that a nuclear war would be much like a conventional one, except the craters would be bigger. Just duck beneath your dashboard if you're in your car and see the flash, and you'll be fine.

The search for sources is different today with databases and online access, but the discovery, the sense of wonder is the same. It's why I love libraries.

Libraries: All life long
by Deborah Nielsen:

When I was a kid, I spent a great deal of my free time at the East Branch of the Carnegie Library in Cheyenne. It was located on the south side of Cole Shopping Center. That little library was one of my favorite places. When I was very young, Mom would take me to story times and I would sit on the floor with other kids enraptured by the story and the pictures. Afterwards, I’d have to check out some books. When I was old enough to get there on my own, either by walking or bicycling, I’d check out a pile of books and then struggle to pack them all home. During the summer, I would take part in the summer reading competition. (As an adult, I still do that.)

The East Branch closed in 1969 when the new Laramie County Library was opened at 2800 Central Avenue. I was sad to see my favorite library close but came to like the new library just as much or more. I was a regular patron from the time it opened until it was closed in 2007.

Our new, award-winning library building was opened at 2200 Pioneer Avenue in the fall of 2007. Its exterior walls are windows. I love the light and airy feeling they give the building. In addition to the books, the new library has a coffee shop where I get an occasional cup of tea; meeting rooms where I’ve gotten together with fellow writers; and the large Cottonwood Room, which is used for cultural events such as book readings and signings by popular authors, writing classes, the annual RSVP program, and concerts, among other things.

I can’t tell you how much money the library has saved me over the years. I’ve read many best-sellers for free instead of having to buy them. I’ve had access to research books that I wouldn’t have been able to obtain otherwise. And I’ve enjoyed many activities that probably wouldn’t have been available had it not been for the Laramie County Library’s staff.

The library has given me so much over my life that a few years ago I decided to give back and volunteer to help out with some of the events that the library puts on. I’ve enjoyed working with some of the library staff, various local authors and the public.

We are very lucky here in Laramie County. We’ve had an excellent library for many years. It’s been supported by the county commissioners who provide the funding and by the community who authorize the taxes that keep it running and provide for new buildings when necessary. Libraries are a valuable resource. Support your local library. Be a patron. Be a volunteer. Explore the stacks and find a good book to read.

Yeah, what Deborah said. 
Let's all give thanks for the libraries in our lives,
and work to ensure their future.

1 comment:

  1. I am crazy about libraries. I remember my first library and library card -- and keep my current library card in my wallet right next to my driver's license. I will one day have to surrender my license to drive as I will be a menace on the road. I will never have to surrender my license to read.


Writing Wyoming blog comments are moderated--yours will be posted shortly. Thanks for joining in the conversation!