Florida Woman Goes to Library

By Sue W. 

After you move from the scholarly western suburbs of Boston to the coast of Southwest Florida, a few things may unsettle you at first.

There are, of course, the gap-toothed guys driving around in pickup trucks flying Confederate flags.

You realize that news reports about Florida Man or Florida Woman—a recent form of Homo sapiens—now come out of your own fair state. You know Florida Man, of course you do. “Florida man assaults wife with machete for buying toilet paper at Walmart.” Only in Florida, you think.

Groceries are surprisingly pricey here. The ice cream truck plays Christmas carols, year round. The sun sets into the ocean. Given the FCAT scores, you wonder if kids here ever go to college.

You suspect they might not even have libraries in this neck of the woods.

Up north, you’ve spent hours in the cool solitude of brick-bound establishments that have either presided over their community since the nineteenth century or been built to look as if they have.

Your first library was in the heart of the tree-lined colonial streets of Concord, Mass. The Concord Free Public Library’s Victorian Gothic spire first rose at the base of a triangle of land bisecting Main Street and Sudbury Road in 1873–to be rivaled in grandeur only by the Massachusetts State Reformatory up the road. Over the years it evolved into a Greek revival temple with columns bracketing the front entrance and wings on both sides. You remember the way it smelled and felt, its Children’s Room with a fully furnished and lighted Victorian dollhouse, three hours curled up devouring its entire Bobbsey Twins collection. There, you came to love the rich, musty smell of library books; the satisfying crinkle of the plastic covers taped over dust jackets with ribbed transparent tape; the list of purple stamps on each book’s unique card, which told you who had read the book before you and how long it had taken them to read it.

Your last library in the Northeast was the Beverly Farms branch library, renovated to emulate the brick-bound dignity of a place like the Concord Free Public. By that time, you could search for and reserve books online, looking forward to their arrival like Amazon packages. Except … they were free!

It seemed too much to expect such amenities on the Southwest Florida frontier.

But the Mid-Country Regional Library up the Tamiami Trail has all that and more, suddenly making you feel at home. Instead of manila cards, books now have printout due-date slips tucked into the envelope in their inside back cover. The building is clearly modern, not Greek revival. But as long as you can electronically seek, reserve, look forward to, hold, smell, and crinkle a library book here, for free, all’s well.

They’re a bit more stern about late fines here, but I guess they have to be, with Florida Man and all.

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