When I was a kid, in the summer, my sister and I would go to the library once a week and come home with stacks of books. My stack was eclectic: novels, almanacs, poetry, animal books, art books, whatever struck me that week. My sister’s stack generally consisted of books on fish, Jacque Cousteau, sharks, ocean life and sometimes Ripley’s Believe It or Not type books. We would drag a blanket out to the driveway and spread it out so half was in the shade ( for me) and half was in the sun (for my sister) and we would spend hours out there reading.
I grew up in a small suburban town and knew almost every book in there that remotely held my interest. By the time I was 13, I was working my way through the adult fiction section, pulling out each book to see if it was something I wanted to read. No one ever questioned my selections, not my librarian, not my parents. I was free to read what I chose. At some point in my teens, I stumbled upon Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden. It was shelved in the adult fiction section; but, was about teen girls, so I brought it home and read it. If you have never read Annie or just don’t know about it, I suspect that it was one of, if not the first YA novel dealing with a lesbian relationship that did not end badly or sadly.
That book was astounding to me. I knew what being gay meant. We all suspected my sister was gay. But, to have evidence that this might exist outside of my family and be okay was a comfort I could only guess that I needed. The library was my oasis from a group of friends that were more interested in drugs and having sex. It was a place I felt comfortable and confindent in. It was a place where I was free to be curious.
In the mid nineties, I was working at the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library and I got the opportunity to attend my first library conference, PLA in Portland. At one of the workshops, I sat down and turned to the woman next to me to introduce myself. She looked a bit familiar but I couldn’t place her until I looked down at her name tag. It was my childhood librarian from Denville, NJ. I couldn’t believe it. I excitedly introduced myself and gushed about how important the library was to me as a child and how fondly I remembered her. She didn’t seem fazed, though perhaps I made her feel a bit old! I felt so grateful that I had the opportunity to thank her. I didn’t even realize I wanted to thank her until I sat down next to her as a colleague 20 years later.
That little library on Diamond Spring Road no longer exists. They built a bigger one down the street; but, now that I’m a librarian myself, I frequently think about my experiences there and realize that I was given two gifts: my parents shared their love of reading with us and encouraged our curiosity and the library was the safe haven where I got to explore other worlds, where I began to dream about my future and where I read a book that planted a seed in me that I would need later when I began accepting that I am gay.
You have an opportunity to help a library continue to make that sort of impact on its residents. The Lousville Free Public Library in Lousville, Kentucky suffered greatly during a recent flood. They lost materials and equipment that their patrons need and count on (estimated at 5 million dollars!!!!) Please donate to the Lousville Free Public Library Foundation at this link. Your contribution will be greatly appreciated by the Lousville Free Public Library and by the residents of Lousville, KY.
To read more blog posts in this, Libraries Kick Ass!!, fundraising blogathon, visit this link.