National Library Week

Sorry, Disneyland.  Libraries are actually the happiest place on earth.

Except maybe this year, when so many of them are in peril.

With the budget axe currently hanging over school and public libraries in many states (including New Jersey, where libraries are facing a potential whopping 74% cut in state funding — read more about it here), they need our support more than ever.

Those of you who read my blog already know how much I love libraries, and what an enormous role they played in shaping me as a writer — for a reminder, click here.  I’ve always lived within walking distance of one, and I’ve chosen every home I’ve ever lived in as an adult based on whether the town it was in had a thriving library.  Thriving library = thriving community.  For me, the equation is as simple as that.

I’m not the only one who feels this way.  My friend Jo Knowles has a particularly heartfelt post on her blog  today reminding us how tightly libraries are woven into the fabric of American life, and what a hole they’d leave if they were to be ripped out, or their role in our communities diminished.

This is National Library Week.  Stop by your public library.  Enjoy it.  Be grateful for it.  Champion it.  It’s presence is a gift for and from your community.

How do we love thee, libraries

I get the best letters from fans!  This young reader’s heartfelt praise for her local library just made my day:

“Sometimes when my dad goes to work out at the gym I walk a few blocks to the library and hang out there.  I love how quiet it is, and how you can just think about whatever you want, without being disturbed, and you can read anything, really.  I like it because it just takes my mind off all the stuff that bugs me in the world.  All my problems just leave my mind.  It’s nice.”

My local library was always my haven, too, when I was growing up.  I loved everything about libraries — the smell, the palpable silence (this was back in the days of stern, shushing librarians), the dizzying idea of so many books to choose from.  Libraries made me giddy.  They still do.

That letter sent me on a nostalgic walk down memory lane, revisiting the libraries I used to hang out in years ago.  First stop, East Lexington Branch Public Library in Lexington, Mass., where I got my very first library card:

It was right at the end of the street where we lived, and I still remember the thrill of holding my father’s hand as we walked there each week, and later, the even bigger thrill of being allowed to walk there all by myself.

Next stop is the Concord Free Public Library in Concord, Mass., a stately brick building steeped in literary history:

I practically lived there from fourth through tenth grades.

Then it was on to Hanover, New Hampshire, and the Howe Library:

Totally different architecture, totally familiar smell.  I felt right at home.  I got an after-school job there as a page and spent many happy hours in the stacks, reshelving books and magazines (including the entire collection of Life, a task which took me far, far longer than it should because I couldn’t resist leafing through every photo-rich issue).

I think I learned as much if not more about 20th century history browsing through those magazines than I did in any class I ever took.

Best of all for a word-smitten teenager, though, was Baker Library at Dartmouth College.  As a local high school student, I’d muster my best impression of a sophisticated college co-ed and sneak in (this was before the days of electronic ID cards).  I’d head straight for the wing that held the beautiful Sanborn Library, where tea and cookies were served at 4:00 each afternoon (they still are, apparently).  Add cozy leather armchairs and quiet alcoves in which to curl up and read, and I had found my heaven.

I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling.  Wasn’t it Jorge Luis Borges who once said, “I have always imagined that heaven will be a kind of library”?