June 11, 2021
The public library has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I don’t know how old I was, but I remember walking up the winding staircase at the old Fergus Falls library building on Union Ave with my mom to hear Librarian Betty read stories to us. I remember crawling over the large, low, bed-like benches in the children’s area and settling down with a stack of books. Here, I learned how to go on adventures with Michael Rosen, Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle and so many others.
At that time, the children’s books were all bound the same way. It was that “library book” look. Books used to be published for the library in a way that protected them. This is why they looked different. It was because publishers knew the books would receive more wear and tear than the average book at home. I don’t know when they changed this, but whenever I see one of the “old” books I have to smile. And as a child, I loved browsing the low shelves in that historic, downtown building. At that time, the library had a certain “old” smell. It wasn’t even the smell of old books! Maybe it was TRULY the beginning of my love of history: that old building was and still is gorgeous!
I also remember when Fergus Falls built its brand new library facility across from my favorite park. What a change this was! Years later, as a high school student, I started my very first job in this place as a librarian aide. I returned to the library aide again when I was living on my own, and I treasured the years I worked there. It still, to this day, was and is one of my favorite and most valued places of employment.
I met so many people from behind that big front desk. All of the student workers shared a bond that consisted of piles and carts of returned books that took hours to check in. Yet, our bond consisted of more than just that. We shared stubbed toes on book carts, birthday cake in the break room, “shelf-reading,” jammed printers, stamping discarded books, ringing the bell for help, and questions on the phone that only the older librarians could answer.
Our job was to sort and shelve and check out books, but we OWNED it. We LOVED our books and our job, and we took great pride in knowing every inch of that place. All of us met and helped some of our very favorite patrons. Library aides endured the not-so-fun moments and kept a close eye on the children. We knew the routines of the “regulars” and what books certain families gravitated towards. It was easy to learn where the seniors liked to sit to read the newspaper and who used the computer regularly. We weren’t necessarily nosy, but only observant as good librarians are. This was and is our home, and once you work at the public library, you ALWAYS work at the public library.
Ask any one of us who stand a little bit taller when someone asks, “What was YOUR first job?”
“I worked at the public library.”
And only those who worked together could look at each other and say, without words, “It was the best time.”
Fast forward to our BRAND NEW library facility! When I visited for the first time, I cried. I hugged Erin the library director. I didn’t have the words to express how excited I was for the staff. And for us!! I am so attached to this beautiful, free, public place. I only wanted the best for it. No more stinky bathrooms. The uncomfortable chairs were gone. The space! It was so bright and beautiful! The building looked huge in comparison to our last library, and I could tell that my kids would LOVE this place for years to come! I was so proud to be a part of a community that valued literacy. In fact, they value it enough to make this important transition a part of our city’s history by doing so with ALL of us in mind: my children included.
From day one, we’ve introduced our kids to books. We made it a point to read to Kaylen every night from the day she was born: one Bible story and two books. We continued this tradition with Rhys and then with infant Elyana. Now, since our oldest kiddos can read, we spend less time as a family reading children’s books and more time giving them a considerable amount of time in bed exploring books of their choice on their own. In fact, we almost slipped into NOT reading to them at all! When I came to this realization, I told Caleb that I was NOT ok with this. We still do our family Bible reading time, but we had forgotten about Elyana: the one that CAN’T read!
She has always been so enthralled with looking at books by herself that we’d taken for granted that she wasn’t hearing the words the way the other kids had. Since I’m home with her all the time, I’d thought I’d have other opportunities to read to her, but homeschooling and then dealing with pregnancy took a considerable amount of time and attention. I hadn’t been faithful in reading to her the way I intended to, and I didn’t like that. Since then, I’ve made it a point to read two books to Elyana almost every night so she doesn’t miss out on the wonderful, peaceful experience of reading books with mom and dad every day. I can so easily forget that the little ones need it as much as the big ones do! Actually, adults need it too!
After all, Eric Carle’s death didn’t make us cry a little for no reason.
Any of you parents out there know how much fun and freeing it is to see kids browse the shelves on their own. My son is reading CHAPTER books and he’s only seven years old! Elyana loves the library so much that she cries when we promise to go and then can’t, for whatever reason. She’d check out every “pink” book in the place if we’d let her. And Kaylen? She needs no guidance anymore. She is absolutely loving the stories buried in the wonderful rows called “junior fiction” and is finally investing in chapter books along with her beloved junior graphic novels. And let me tell you: the environment that our public library staff and supporters have created is not only giving this mom a much-needed place of relaxation and refuge but yet another place in which my children feel free to learn at their own pace.
WHAT A GIFT.
This week we took our 6-day-old son to the library. It was his very first outing, and it made sense that the library be his destination. Each kiddo at a very young age received their first library card, and we’ve kept up this tradition after every birth. It was JUST as special to bring him into the family of readers as it was to give Kaylen, Rhys and Elyana their first library card. It’ll be just as important to fill his little mind with words and stories and characters in the many years to come!
In fact, it didn’t surprise me at all that it was Elyana who suggested that she read to her new little brother in the hospital when she came to visit him for the first time. On the day of his birth, she insisted on doing what she had promised. When she came into my hospital room, she found the book in my bag (one she’d already selected) and perched herself on my bed. She read the book aloud (by making up her own words and reciting from memory). Baby Brother Brendyn was going to get a story whether he listened to it or not. In the chaos of seeing the new baby and a doctor’s visit and mommy taking pictures, Elyana read her book. She knew it was important.
What about you? What are some of your favorite library memories? Do you support your own public library? Visit it! Enjoy the place and its people. Find a good story and share it with someone else. And always remember: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” – Dr. Seuss
And NOBODY is too small to get a library card!