I thought I was a pretty cool little boy growing up.
I was tough. I jumped off the high dive at the pool when I was five.
I could take a hit. I beat up a girl on the bus. This might sound lame until I tell you that the girl was in third grade and I was in second and everybody knows that a third grade girl is like double the size of a second grade boy.
I learned to cuss at an early age, which of course strikes fear into the hearts of sissies and forces adults to suppress laughter and feign disappointment.
At the YMCA’s arcade, to the kid playing Frogger, my Frogger: “Get off my Mother-f*&cking game.”
He did and then I, without any quarters, proceeded to pretend to control the frog.
I drank. If you were over at my house playing cards with my parents and set your beer down and looked the other way, when you looked back I would be chugging it.
We could debate whether or not these things made me cool, but there is one thing for sure that didn’t…
I played library.
That’s right, library. My brother and I organized our bookshelves of Sesame Street, Disney, and Golden Books and then we checked them out to one another after reading them. We had some of my Mom’s books too. We lumped the V.C. Andrews together. The coolest cover was The Sword of Shannara. And the book that I most wanted to be seen reading was The Stone and the Flute because it was 864 pages long.
Late fees were noogies.
I’m not ashamed that we played library. The library in Union City, Indiana, was one of my favorite places. We’d go in with nothing, pay nothing, and walk out with armfuls of books. The smells were free too, and they were wondrous.
When we got home, I grabbed the books and snaked my way through the adjacent field of corn to where our clubhouse sat in a grove of trees. I would toss the books onto the elevated porch and then climb the ladder, unfold my mini lawn chair, and begin to read.
From my perch above the corn I traveled around the world and to different times and realities, only to be interrupted by a passing groundhog or my mom.
Mom would come out with a freshly made PB&J and glass of milk. She could’ve just handed the sandwich to me, but instead she went to the back of the clubhouse and hollered for me to open the window – the clubhouse’s only one. I’d slide it to the side and lower a bucket with a ski rope tied to the handle. By the time I had hoisted it up, the glass of milk would be sitting on the front porch and Mom would be gone unless I invited her up.
And then it was back to my library books.
We lived in corn and bean and tomato country. The fields rotated as the years passed. In our rural neck of the woods there weren’t a lot of places to get your hands on books. There were no bookstores within an hour’s drive, in fact there still isn’t, unless you count Wal-Mart. The drugstore only carried massmarket paperbacks and comic books which explained the V.C. Andrews in our library and my brother’s banker boxes overflowing with Spiderman and Batman.
Without the Union City library, I’m not sure where we would have found books. Even if there would have been a bookstore nearby, our parents couldn’t have afforded to quench our appetite for reading. They owned a small business in which they reinvested most of their earnings. And we read a lot of books, thousands of dollars worth.
It was the books from the library that made me curious about the world and its people. They likely planted the seed for my love of travel and writing. Without them I might not have become a writer. I might not have written Where Am I Wearing?.
It was the books from the library that inspired hours of play in imaginary worlds in which my brother Kyle would often be some sort of alchemist, mixing magic potions and giving them to me to try. The potions were mainly water, but also grass and food coloring and dad’s cologne. Today Kyle has his PhD and experiments on other people.
Without our libraries, what would we be?
This week the Free Libraries of Philadelphia announced they will close after over a century. The library survived world wars and the great depression, but they can’t survive now?!?
As an author, this scares me. Library purchases account for a good portion of first-print runs. (via EditorialAss) Without them it would be tough for publishers to risk publishing first-time authors and those who don’t have big name recognition.
Plus, where is an author supposed to do his research, if not the library? It’s tough enough making a living as an author. If you had to buy every book you used in your research it would be even tougher.
And what would the world be without librarians? I once requested an article by Isaac Asimov that ran in a 1973 Penthouse. A few weeks later I had a copy of the article. (People actually do just read the articles, you know?) If not for the librarian, I would have had to ask your pervy uncle — the one with the penchant for hippie-age hygiene and grooming – to tap into his Penthouse archive. Yuck!
As a reader and thinker and believer that knowledge shouldn’t only be accessible to those who can afford it, a community or city or world without libraries terrifies me.
I was in downtown Muncie, my hometown, a few weeks ago and stumbled into the library. Budget cuts turned it into an archive of Indiana history. A big beautiful archive with a domed ceiling that no one visits and nothing can be checked out. You can walk to the old library; you don’t need a car. There are crosswalks and sidewalks. The same can’t be said for the other city libraries. You have to drive to them or take a bus and then brave streets that aren’t pedestrian friendly. There were five libraries in Muncie, now there are three counting the archive.
The Union City library hasn’t changed much either other than Mrs. Miller, the tiny librarian with the great Story Time voice, has retired. The technology is the same. I recently did a reading there and I had to bring my own projector to show my presentation. The pull down screen that hangs over the door wouldn’t stay down and we had to attach it to a chair with a plastic coat hanger. It came undone and flew up and crashed with bang. It was funny and the audience laughed (see the video below). But you know, it was really sad.
I know that times are tough for all levels of government, but cutting funds to the libraries are the last thing we should do. Roads full of potholes don’t make us dumber; they don’t jeopardize the future of our children, our cities, our country.
Give me potholes! Give me libraries! (Unfortunately in Muncie, we have a growing number of the former and decreasing number of the latter.)
Raise our taxes, fine! Give me libraries!
Cancel the city fireworks! Give me libraries!
Keep your deputy assistant junior mayor in training! Give me librarians!
Give me libraries or give me dearth!
Libraries have given me so much over the years. This year alone I’ve probably checked out 60 books and only paid 40-cents when I turned in a book a few days late. Now I plan to give back and I hope that you’ll join me.
Today I’m writing a check to my local library in Muncie for $10.83. The library system expects a budget cut in the near future of $1.3 million. $10.83 represents the amount every resident of Muncie would have to pay to make up the difference. I’ll also include a letter (probably this post) of what libraries mean to me.
I hope that you’ll join me.
When you do, leave a comment in this post and include your library’s address. I’ll send them a note of support and $1.
If we do nothing, “playing library” might be the closest our children ever get to checking out a book. And that would be really uncool.
(Further Reading: New York Times piece on Ray Bradbuy’s fight for his local library. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities,” Bradbury said. “I believe in libraries.”)