Monday, October 10, 2022

Library: A Love Letter

 I will spend the rest of my library life missing the card catalog, remembering how it almost dared to squeak when I pulled it open, the musty waft of notecards as the drawer rolled toward me, the officious, efficient sound of cardboard rectangles beneath my fingers. Even though today I can settle into a pleather chair that wooshes like the soft toilet seat at my grandma's long-gone house when I sit on it, tap-tap-tap on the germy library computer keyboard, and find the strange string of letters, numbers and periods that sets me off on a scavenger hunt through the stacks to find my book-- the identical code I'd discover in the belly of the catalog and jot down with a scratchy pencil on the scrap paper the librarians kept in small plastic baskets-- digital book searching is not satisfying in the same tactile way.

Absent that behemoth, my library life remains. A smiling face at the reference desk. Silent shelves for adults and a low, inviting room for children. The sounds of many people being quiet together, punctuated by books slipping from stacks into waiting hands, keys clacking, feet shuffling across beige carpet-- always beige carpet. Hello, friend the library says when I push my book into the return slot. We've missed you, it tells me as I stand in front of the new book shelf, turning my head to the side to read spines. Don't be a stranger, it admonishes me as I follow a toddler to the ransacked play kitchen near the picture books and collapse on a deep reading chair while my fat baby cooks me an invisible snack or plays with plastic toys shiny from so many dimpled hands picking them up and tossing them aside for the next crop of babies and moms with nothing better do.

Nothing is better to do than spend a day-- a morning, an afternoon, a sliver of seconds between groceries and nap-- at the library. How many times have I sat on this armless sofa reading the ladies' magazines someone thoughtfully curates on the round table next to the shabby toys? How many babies have I watched driving these tired trains, stacking these mismatched blocks, steering this wobbly truck across the story time rug? 

The library will welcome me and the tote bags of books I lug through the door even when I am alone-- especially when I am alone. A chubby pre-teen reading Danielle Steele. A nervous graduate student kneeling in front of a tub of onion-skin papers. A frazzled mom chasing a two-year-old with a full diaper through a seasonal board book display. Someday, someone who walks slower but has time to read faster, always content to spend an hour here and there flipping pages.

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