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?