An Ode to Libraries During National Library Week 2020

I had a terrific childhood. For five years during grade school I lived in an idyllic children’s wonderland called… Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I know, I know, “there’s a prison there, right?” Very true, but the prison is just a very small part of the post. For people assigned there voluntarily it’s more like a beautiful, old college campus than a prison site or even a traditional Army post. And, in fact, it’s a hub of Army learning, so the campus image is fitting.

Fort Leavenworth is full of beautiful old buildings, many of them housing the military families that make the post their temporary home. The quarters my family and I lived in were built in the early 1900s – high ceilings, wood floors, transom windows over the bedroom doors, clunking radiators. In a word, perfection.

But my pre-adolescent interests were mostly focused on what was outside the walls of our quarters, and this is what made Fort Leavenworth a really special place to grow up. Entertainment was just a short walk away. Our front door opened up onto soccer and baseball fields. Just across the soccer field was the movie theater, where I first saw Jaws and The Bad News Bears. In the opposite direction, just a few blocks away, were the swimming pool, tennis courts, community center, and St. Ignatius, where my family and I attended Catholic Mass. And just down the street, about 200 yards away, was the post library.

Thankfully, my mom was a big reader and introduced me to the library at an early age. The floors were creaky, the smell was musty, and the head librarian was crabby. I loved that library – the sturdy oak card catalogs, the mint green scraps of paper for jotting down Dewey decimal numbers, the tha-thunk of the date stamp when you checked out, burgundy rows of World Book Encyclopedias. It even had framed prints you could check out when you wanted to spiff up the walls of your quarters.

But mostly I loved that library because it introduced me to Ramona and Beezus, Curious George, Anne of Green Gables, Black Beauty, and the March family from Little Women. I read every single Nancy Drew book in their collection and can still visualize the shelf they were on because that was often the first place I’d check when I entered the library. James Herriot acquainted me with the life of a country vet, the Bronte sisters taught me what qualities to avoid in men, and Arthur Conan Doyle sealed my love for a good mystery.

I’d say the Fort Leavenworth library and my mom were a powerful team in shaping me to be a life-long reader, and for that I’m forever grateful. It’s probably not a coincidence that my mom ended up working there, and that gave me access to the mysterious inner workings of the place. I helped my mom with her project of automating the card catalog and came to know that the head librarian was crabby with everyone, but she wasn’t mean-spirited.

Sadly, the library moved to a new building decades ago, to a location that kids can’t really walk to. What a shame. But I like to think that the old library with the creaky floors lives on in people like me, who were so deeply influenced by it.

These days, I have a very different, but still meaningful, relationship with a library. The Mid-Continent Public Library System serves the Kansas City area, mostly in the surrounding suburbs. I’m not sure I’ve even set foot in one of their branches, but I’m a very active user of their Overdrive eBook system. They have an expansive eBook collection and, equally important, many copies available for current, popular books. Overdrive makes reading highly accessible, even to people who have to operate it using their eyes, like me. Another example of libraries having great significance in people’s lives.

So, during National Library Week, I invite you to join me in expressing a very heartfelt thank you to libraries everywhere!

What’s your library story?

20 thoughts on “An Ode to Libraries During National Library Week 2020

  1. Hi Michelle! I am Sara Lynch. I spent most of my growing up years in Leavenworth, KS and a few years in Brunswick, GA. Books were my escape, my peace in life growing up. I would read anything and everything. I have always loved libraries, not that we went to many as a family. My school libraries were my favorite part of school. To this day, I adore any library! (and truthfully, during shelter-in-place, I miss the library more than anything else.)

    I will forever love the smell of books, new and old. I can’t help but stop anytime I see a book sale. Whereas, I have no issue with electronic books and like audio books, nothing is as satisfying as holding a traditional book.

    I currently live in Little Rock and utilize the Central Arkansas Library System for everything from audio books, to DVDs, to traditional books, to jigsaw puzzles. I also attend exercise classes there-sometimes. To sit in a library and read is always a zen experience.

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    • Hi, fellow Leavenworth gal! (my dad eventually retired there, so I lived there through high school – Immaculata). Thanks for sharing your library story. It’s weird to think of all the libraries sitting empty right now, but hopefully they’ll re-open soon. People need them!

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  2. What a beautiful description of the importance of libraries! My childhood access to books was the weekly visit from the bookmobile which parked in our local grocery store parking lot. Like you, I can still envision the shelf of famous persons biographies that I loved to read. Also like you, pleasure in reading was a great gift from my mom. And COVID has taught me to appreciate ebooks β€” a new one from the library the instant I finish one. It’s wonderful!

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    • Thanks for sharing your library story, Susan! I’ve never used a book mobile but I know what an important service they provide. Glad you’re enjoying eBooks. They really are convenient!

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  3. I loved reading this remembrance, so thank you Michelle!

    My childhood library was here in Kansas City, the one inside Redemptorist Elementary School (now Cristo Rey High School). It was small, not much bigger than a classroom, but it was adequate for its K-thru-8th grade audience. During the school year, some titles were seemingly always checked out — the jocks seemed to always have reserved the sports instructional books like “Basketball for Young Champions” and “Baseball for Young Champions”. But the library had limited hours in the summertime, and it was much less busy then. I recall checking out “Curious George RIdes a Bike” multiple times, only because there were pages that told you exactly how to fold a paper boat. Super useful information!

    After outgrowing that library, I usually liked visiting the library at Penn Valley Community College, which had a great reference section,and a huge library of old periodicals — full paper copies of Time and Newsweek magazines from decades prior.

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    • That’s a great library story, Louis! Thanks for sharing it! I think The Guinness Book of World Records was the most popular book in my grade school’s library. All of us kids loved to gawk at the pictures. For example, the world’s longest fingernails was a particular favorite and led to a lot of speculation about how that person performed everyday tasks. πŸ™‚

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  4. Great story Michelle! Molly and I shared some great memories of our 4 years at Ft. Leavenworth after reading your post. And you’re right – it was (and still is?) an idyllic place. My father-in-law used to call it “Leave it to Beaver Land” because of the families and the kids, kids, kids! In short, it was how life should be for all kids.

    Anyway, your story also reminded me of going to the library in Indiana when I was in elementary school. My sister and I would walk or ride our bikes. I don’t know how far it really was but it seemed like a long, long way! Every summer we would participate in the reading challenge and get our little orange passbooks to log our books after we read them. What great fun. Oh, and I too knew exactly where to go to see if any Boxcar Children books had arrived since my last visit.

    Great story!

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    • I was hoping you would weigh in with some additional tales from Fort Leavenworth! Your father-in-law got it right.

      And thanks for sharing your library story. I think those summer reading programs are a great way to get kids, especially ones with competitive streaks, to read more.

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  5. I loved your library tribute, Michelle. It brought back so many memories! My mom would take me and my two younger sisters to the local library in our hometown in suburban Los Angeles one afternoon each month and let us check out as many books as we wanted – I would go home with an abundant armload of mysteries, biographies, novels – whatever grabbed my attention. I always felt rich with that stack of books on the table by our family room armchair. It was no surprise to any of us that Mom went back to school after we left home for college and got her Masters in Library Science. We always thought she was very lucky to spend her “second career” inside a library!
    Recently I have been appreciating another aspect of libraries – their encouragement of writers. Our Johnson County Public Library has a quarterly writing contest, and I’m pleased to say I’ve now won their essay contest three times. They host public readings for the winners, so I get to meet other local writers and share my work with a wider audience. It is a great gift to our community.
    Thanks for reminding all of us about these important institutions. I do hope they re-open soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a wonderful story, Martha! I’m glad your mom found that second career. I didn’t know you were such an accomplished essayist, but it’s certainly not surprising. Are your essays published somewhere that I can read them?

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  6. Loved, loved, loved this post!! Pun intended!! Yes, I have many memories of the post library and it was a special treat living within walking distance of it. I certainly spent plenty of time there! But I also have wonderful memories of the library in Fairfax, VA when we were stationed there. Mom would take us there every other Saturday to turn in the books we had checked out and to get new books. I think the limit was three, so we had to pick carefully. We so looked forward to this regular event, much like going to the best playground ever. Great way to grow up! Thanks for the wonderful memories!

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  7. Thanks so much for this post, Michelle! It brought back so many memories both of our children and of my own childhood! As George mentioned above we really enjoyed remembering fondly our 4 years at Fort Leavenworth when our kids were young. What a great place to grow up! And I LOVED taking the kids to the library–wherever we lived–mostly because they loved going and it was a great family outing, but also because we could change up the repertoire of books for bedtime reading instead of Good Night Moon for the 1000th time (although that is still one of my favorites!) But, I also vividly remember going to the library in Arlington, TX where I grew up–pulling open the long drawers of the card catalog to find a particular book when I was older or just perusing the shelves looking for something to catch my eye. And that library is where I went when George called me to tell me he had orders to Hawaii as our first duty station right before we got married. Can you imagine having to go to the library to find out about something instead of just asking Google?? Thanks again Michelle and happy National Library Week!

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