Friday, December 16, 2011

The Library by Sarah Stewart
Illustrated by David Small
Those who know me know well my love of books and libraries.
I have always lived in a home that was filled with books. 
Books were always my first request at gift-giving times, and a stack of books was often to be found wrapped and tagged with my name beneath the Christmas tree.
The memory that may be my very earliest takes place in the tiny library in the town were I grew up.  I remember being at Story Hour, maybe three years old, sitting in a little wooden chair at a little wooden table in front of a sunny window with other little boys and girls, and coloring and cutting out a picture of an igloo.
Miss Lee was our librarian, and I suppose on that particular day she had read to us a story about children who lived in such a structure, and the 'art' project was meant to support the book.

Miss Lee...

oh my.
A tiny, ageless woman, who wore white blouses with short sleeves and Peter Pan collars, and full, pleated skirts.
She knew our families and our favorite types of books.  She knew what we had already read, and what we would be most happy reading next.
She knew our faces and names and library numbers.  It was never necessary for her to present library cards to us, for she had our very important borrower's numbers safeguarded in her memory.

Mine was 694

To this day, whenever I see that combination of numbers, I am transported back in time to happy days lost in the pages of a book.

Miss Lee had the MOST magical tool that she used to give us the greatest power in the world: the power held between the covers of books!
Her special tool was a little metal cap-thing that perched on the eraser end of her pencil.  It held tiny pink-rubber blocks with reverse-cut numbers and letters.
The little blocks were kept in a box in Miss Lee's large wooden desk.  Every day the library was open, her first task was to change them. She had a pair of tweezers with which to pluck the rubber pieces from the box and carefully insert them into the metal holder.  For each book I presented to her, she would press that end of her pencil against her well-inked stamp pad and then upon a slip of paper glued into the back of the chosen book, and voila!

Mar 6 60

My borrowed books were due back on the date stamped there.
She would reverse her pencil and use the point to write my own special number, 694, on the borrower's card and file it away to await the return of the precious book.
Miss Lee then handed the stack of books across her desk and into my eager hands, smiled, and sent me on my way.

I loved the library! I love libraries still.
I have spent countless hours in my life with my nose buried in a book. 
Even better, I have spent approximately seventeen years of my adult life doing much the same work as Miss Lee: putting books into the hands of children.

Through a series of poor career choices, I no longer work in libraries.  I miss that work every single day.  It was, with no debate, the most rewarding job of my life.
I still love books, though, and I read to my grandchildren whenever possible.  I wish I had many, many more children to whom I could read!

Yesterday was my day off.  I had a small extra job to do, but it took less time than I'd allotted for it, so I cast about for something to fill a couple of hours.
I drove to my oldest grandson's school and asked if I could do some volunteer work there.
Maybe I could help the library aide?
The school secretary handed me a form to fill out for a criminal record check (yes, even volunteers have to undergo these things to work in a school now), phoned the Superintendant of Schools office, and said I could, indeed, work in the library!


It may seem strange, but it was among the happiest two hours I can remember!
I shelved books.
It sounds silly, doesn't it?
I carried stacks of books from the shelves behind the aide's desk and placed them in their homes on the shelves, to await the next interested child.
It was like a reunion with old friends.
I saw titles that I knew so well from my nine years in the elementary school library.
I remembered finding them for the children, placing them in their eager hands, reading them aloud during class library visits.
What fun!
I even found a few stray children to listen as I read a paragraph or two aloud.
When one asked, "How do you know where the books go on the shelves?"
I explained that the number on the spine of every book is its address, like the address of the child's home.
That number tells us where the book 'lives' and how we can find it.
It was a marvellous afternoon.
I will go back and do it again as soon as I can!

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