When I enter a library for the first time reverence and joy washes over me. Regardless of the city, it is a homecoming. There are no strangers in libraries because they are populated by readers.
If you love libraries the above link to a New Yorker article written by Susan Orlean will delight you. It mirrors my memories of discovery and wonders experienced at each visit.
Inner-city Chicago miles from the culturally rich lakefront was not a mecca of reading. Our local public grammar school was more adept at processing children on a conveyor belt of mediocrity than instilling a love of reading. One astute teacher sent a note to my mother. Madame: Please allow your daughter to get a library card at the local branch of the Chicago Public Library. It is necessary for her to continue her studies.
She made the request to the mothers of three other students in the fourth-grade class of 42 students. She rightly guessed our mothers would grant permission because the note written on school stationery, mentioned a sanctioned city facility. Gratefully she was correct.
The Sherman Park Branch Library, named for the founder of the Chicago Stock Yards, not some far off general was added to the park in 1937. Perhaps it was built as a depression-era works project by some of the skilled immigrant artisans who populated the city and my neighborhood.
At age nine I lingered outside the imposing building afraid to go in. The librarian sat at a huge oak desk that faced the front door. She must have seen me as I paced the walk. She opened the door and I froze. The emerging woman said, “May I help you?”
I became a stutterer in the moment. Gradually, I calmed my voice and got the nerve to say, “My teacher says I have to have a library card.”
She extended her right hand toward me and said, “Welcome. My name is Lucy Ingram, and you are?”
I’d neither shaken hands nor had an adult introduce herself to me.
“Come in. Let’s see what kind of books you like.”
The generosity of the teacher who led me to a door and the librarian who opened it gave me the greatest gift of my life. Though our libraries are closed due to the Corona Virus, our tireless librarians strive to foster our communities. Zoom book club meetings, email chains, and shared resource links allow us to maintain our community, while in the background library staffs meet electronically to explore other ways to connect, develop wellness programming and seek grants for the betterment of our library experiences now and in the post lockdown future.
I hope to see you perusing the shelves soon.