Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Big City Library

As I think I've mentioned before, when I was younger I was a voracious book-a-day reader.  On holidays and forced evacuation, this is actually still the case.  As you might imagine, these habits are difficult on a small town library system, and thus I would often beg my mother to take me to the larger library that formed the heart of the system, even though it was farther away.  

At this larger library, I discovered the book Jade, by Sally Watson.  It had everything I wanted in a book: languages, cats, history and most importantly independent-minded spirited girls who went on adventures (as opposed to staying home, playing second fiddle to the boys, or simply not existing).  Examining the back pages once I had finished this amazing book, I discovered that Sally Watson had written eleven more books.  When I returned Jade, I searched eagerly for the rest.  Not finding them, I searched the library system.  Not there.  

This led to my first interlibrary loan.  Summoning up the courage to ask the scary librarian who scolded me for checking out too many books for help, I asked if there was any way to get these books.  She told me about interlibrary loan, and we found a big city library that had them all, although I could only order three at a time.  I continued to use interlibrary loan on a biweekly basis, reading and re-reading all of the books except one that was reported stolen from the big city library.  

Twenty years later, zooming in on Google maps to figure out parking for my achilles appointment, I noticed that Big City Library was mere blocks away.  I could visit the books I'd borrowed for so many years on the shelves, just waiting for some other young girl to discover them!

So after my appointment, I headed towards Big City Library.  Entering it, I was already entranced, as it looks more like a museum than a library, with different wings for each category of books.  I typed in Sally Watson in the catalog, found my favorite book, The Hornet's Nest, listed in the children's section, and headed towards the W's.  It wasn't there.  Confused, I looked around for the librarian.  There was no one in behind the desk, so I waited.  Eventually one came out of a back room.  

Me: I'm looking for the books by Sally Watson, I used to order them from this library as a child because my system didn't have them
Librarian: Sally Watson? (Peers into his computer).  We have four.  
Me: Just four? You used to have twelve.  
Librarian: Are you sure these are the ones? From the fifties and sixties?
Me: Yes, that's it
Librarian: Well, I'll go pull them from storage.
Me: They're in storage? Not on the shelves?

My Big City Library dream was crushed.  No one would browse for these books, discovering the wonderful stories inside, and no amount of pretty library architecture could make up for this.  I glanced at the books when he brought them out, remembering how much I had enjoyed them, but unable to check them out because I don't have a Big City Library card.  Then I headed home, trying to figure out if I made a donation of the reprinted versions of these books to the local library, would they be placed on the shelves? Or put in storage as well? Does anyone even go to the library anymore as a biweekly after school treat?


  1. *Insert declension narrative here about how we are the last generation that actually went to a library, of our own free will, in order to read books for pleasure*

    Honestly, though, I remember feeling exactly the same way about my childhood local libraries. I wonder what I would find if I asked to browse the shelves of the library at my elementary school, which is where I found my most mind-opening books of stories.

  2. I had the same feeling too. Libraries were the places that I went to read similar sorts of books to those that you've described here. I was a huge Arthur Ransome fan...the Swallows and Amazons books. I escaped the hell of secondary school in the school library and now I'm wondering what it's like now.

  3. Swallows and Amazons were also one of my favourites, although I discovered them later than Sally Watson. In fact, I have the whole collection sitting on a bookshelf in my parent's house, and have been considering rereading them!