A Personal History of Libraries

1/2.  My mom is at work and my dad stays at the apartment to take care of me. The woman next door needs help with childcare and my dad needs money, so he hauls two kids and a baby all around D.C. We are lucky that so many things are free. I learn to walk at the Smithsonian in between trips to the zoo. We visit the Library of Congress and hear about the days my dad spent there in college doing research.

4. My mom takes a baby and a preschooler to story time once a week with some people who live in our California apartment complex. It is nice to be able to walk to the library without worrying about snow.

6. We have moved twice now and our new house in a colonial town is three-fifths of a mile from the public library. My mom walks there with a baby carriage and two little girls holding hands. My dad is at work now while she stays home, though we know nobody in this whole town. We are each allowed to pick out one movie, and as many books as will fit in the tote-bag.

8. I somehow get it into my head that I want to read every book in the children’s section. I ask if they have a list – I will obviously do this in alphabetical order. They do not have a list, though it is all in the computer. I give up on this dream quickly and return to my L’Engle and Dahl.

9. The librarian at my elementary school runs a weekly mystery challenge and you are allowed to stay in from recess to do ‘research’. I am in fourth grade and we are having a rough winter and I am holed up in a corner reading Harry Potter while the librarian turns a blind eye. My teacher walks in and I am hauled back to the classroom – recess is mandatory.

12. This summer we watch a movie every morning, alternating between my brother’s selections of Robin Hood and Space Jam. I read him the Time Warp  Trio books, though he does not understand all the references. there are a few we have to order from other libraries and we eagerly await the phone call announcing their arrival.

14. Things are not going well at school and I start walking the two miles home a couple afternoons a week. I spend an hour hunched over in the YA section reading Cosmo and the tiny section of LGBT books for teens. The call number, 306.766, is saved in a draft message in my flip phone. I read a very long book about a writer who goes undercover at an LA high school and am not reassured about the upcoming transition. One day I walk there with a girl from my class and we almost heal our broken friendship next to the magazines.

16. I read a lot of parenting books and articles about homeschooling, trying to find ways that my life could have gone a little differently. I am racing my brother home on our razor scooters when I trip on an uneven sidewalk paver and scrape open half my leg. I spend the rest of the summer reading nonfiction and picking at the scab.

18. I start taking the shuttle bus from my unhappy college to the downtown library, with its big glass windows and needle collection bins. I read memoirs of successful women alongside old issues of Wired and Good Housekeeping. One day I will park in this lot for a summer internship and a gun will be found wedged between some books on a library shelf. But today I do not have friends at college and need to fill some time.

19. I am at a new college in the dead of winter and things are going okay. There is a room in the basement of the big library that looks out on the baseball field; it is filled with periodicals and stressed out English majors. I study microeconomics in between reading the New Yorker and watching people trek across the quad. My friend who will leave after this semester likes to study upstairs and I buy him sodas during finals week.

20. In the science library at school there is a book near my favorite table called Pro Apache Struts with Ajax. I think it is about computer science. It will never not be funny.

21. The library at home is undergoing a much needed renovation. They opened a temporary location at the old residential facility that the state closed down. It’s a good use of space, better than a lot of small towns. My dad wants me to come here every day with my laptop to look for a job. Instead, I come to pick up this month’s book club selection for my mom. Somehow it feels incredibly lonely, even when the small space is filled with young parents chasing toddlers and old men reading the newspaper. I read some magazines and check up on the young adult LGBT selection – the only book is by Dan Savage. The view from the parking lot is spectacular, looking out at the sad city next door. I drive home with some books I’ll probably never finish.



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