Libraries Saved Me

By Cathy B. 

I am not sure if this is relevant to today’s issues, but in the 1950s and 1960s, during a tumultuous childhood and adolescence, three libraries and two librarians came to my rescue.

The first was the Lowell Public Library in Lowell, Mass., where a favorite uncle was the adult librarian. He brought me to the library one day when I was old enough to get my own card, and there I met the children’s librarian and a room full of books! Being downtown, I wasn’t allowed to go there on my own but once a week during the summer, this uncle would pick me up and we would take the bus together to the library, where I felt secure and happy. The quiet, the books, and comfortable reading places, and the fact that I could actually bring books home, which allowed me some escape during the week, helped comfort and support me.

When we moved to Hartford, Connecticut, and I no longer had that connection, I quickly found, within walking distance, a branch of the Hartford Public Library. It was small and a little dark, but a new sanctuary for me with so many books to choose from for a lost 10-year old, and a male librarian who saw the way I devoured books and always had something special for me to read when I came in.

Later, in high school, when I could venture to the main library in Hartford, which was a new and inspiring building, so big, so bright, so full of many new things, including listening rooms for records and a wonderful research room, I would spend hours there on Saturdays. I enjoyed the reprieve from home and the quiet and lack of chaos, the organization and how all the librarians (so many!), were willing to help this skinny little teen who obviously relished the access to books and music and research. I learned about etymology when one research librarian saw me looking words up in a regular dictionary; I learned about classical music from the many records I listened to, recommended by the audio/visual librarian; and of course, I had access to so many books I sometimes didn’t know where to start! I could read about psychology, or medicine, or history to my heart’s content and with pure safety.

To this day, I love walking into a library, even though they have changed over the years. As soon as I enter, I feel that sense of safety and comfort again. I look around and see all kinds of students, children, parents, those with little income, those with good incomes, the elderly – all sharing in a quiet experience. I enjoy the programs that are offered now and the way the small library in this town has attempted to connect with the world but remain connected to the people it serves. I often wonder how many others are there for their comfort and safety and if the librarians there are aware of their roles in providing these needs.

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