by Varda One
It’s only a room with shelves and books,
but it’s far more magical than it looks.
It’s a jet on which I soar
to lands that exist no more.
Or a key with which I find
answers to questions crowding my mind.
Building my habit of learning and growing,
asking and researching till I reach knowing.
Here, I’ve been a mermaid and an elf
I’ve even learned to be more myself.
I think that I shall never see
a place that’s been more useful to me.
With encouraging kind friends with wit
Who tell me to dream big and never quit.
It’s only a room with shelves and books,
but it’s far more magical than it looks.
For me, it’s really quite simple. Library = Love.
I don’t remember her name, or exactly what grade I was in (I’m guessing first or second). We filed into the school library and sat on the carpet. She was kind and very beautiful. As she read aloud The Five Chinese Brothers, I became enraptured with her dramatic voice, the careful way she turned the pages, how she paused to show everyone the pictures. I couldn’t believe it! One brother could stretch himself as tall as he wanted. Another could swallow the sea, and another could hold his breath forever!
I thought about my one and only older brother. He couldn’t do any of these things. But it didn’t matter. Now I had this story, and who knew what else I could find in other books? If you lived in a book, you could do anything you wanted.
The public library soon became my second home, and there I made fast friends with Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beverly Cleary, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Louisa May Alcott, Sydney Taylor, Maud Hart Lovelace, Armstrong Sperry, Lois Lenski, and Carolyn Haywood. This was how I fed myself, while my parents were working and my brother was off playing with his friends.
In high school, the library was a place to meet friends and work on research papers about cancer and reincarnation. In college, it was a quiet oasis away from the chaos of the dorm — a place of serious study and rejuvenating naps, while I tried to absorb Wordsworth, Joyce, and Shakespeare by osmosis.
While teaching high school English in London, I read Georgette Heyer regency romances and Roald Dahl in the Wimbledon public library. In the British Museum reading room, I swooned over the original manuscripts of writers I had only dreamed of back in Hawaii, and tried to hear the distant echoes of those who had also read there once — Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackery, and Charles Darwin. No matter what I was doing in my life, the library was there and I gravitated to it for knowledge, entertainment, sanctuary, and stimulation. It is, to me, the equivalent of safety, freedom, respect, and wonderment.
Today I live in the Washington, D.C., area, a place that probably has the greatest density of libraries in any geographical area of the United States. This includes not only school, public and university libraries, but museum, gallery and government holdings, libraries of private businesses, medical facilities, trade organizations, and on and on. And, of course, thirty miles from home is the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, housing millions of books, recordings, maps, and photographs. When I walk into this place, the beauty of the architecture takes my breath away, and my meager brain tries to comprehend the enormity of its significance — the thoughts of an entire civilization documented and accessible to the public.
And I love librarians, too. I can honestly say I’ve never met one I didn’t like, or who didn’t earnestly try to answer any question I posed, or who didn’t hesitate to help me in any way I asked, all the while displaying unending patience. I also love how librarians have broken their own stereotypes, of being grey-haired, quiet, bespectacled, mousey, and unmarried. Hooray for Sandar, the school librarian at Wimbledon Parkside, who wore crazy striped socks (unmatched), and ate tuna salad every day from a square tupperware container. Her unbounded enthusiasm convinced even the most reluctant of readers that she had just the book for them!
As I celebrate Library Lovers’ Month, I wish to pay special homage to my local public library system in Fairfax County, Virginia. Because of their wonderful interlibrary loan service, I was able to research my third book, Woman in the Moon. I requested obscure journal articles from Hawaiian periodicals published in the 1930’s, as well as rare books about Hawaiian mythology. All were procured within 2 weeks time, at no cost to me, from various libraries across the country.
I’ve also been a library volunteer, met with my writer’s group, and tutored for the Literacy Council in the library conference rooms. Our county system boasts approximately 5.2 million visits a year, with more than 11.3 million items loaned. It is a privilege I will never take for granted.
I’m guessing a lot of you love your libraries, too. Wondering how we can honor them this month? Visit this webpage or this one, for ideas about making tax deductible donations, volunteering, or promoting library services in your area.
So, Happy Library Lovers’ Month! Embrace and enjoy.
For now, I’m going to borrow a copy of The Five Chinese Brothers!
"The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries."
~ Carl Sagan
8 thoughts on “i love my library!”
Lovely post, Jama. Libraries have always been my second home, too.
I second the love for Fairfax County libraries!
My middle school growing up was one of those crazy “open floorplan” schools. The only good thing was that the library was at the center of that open space, and I could sneak away there without anyone ever noticing.
My public library growing up had one of those sunken floor wells for storytime. But it was also fun just to sprawl in there and read.
I can just picture you reading in that sunken well — bliss!
The Five Chinese Brothers
I, too, remember loving THE FIVE CHINESE BROTHERS, so when one of the children in my class brought it into school, I looked forward to reading it. I was surprised at how innapropriate it is. Have things changed so much? Political correctness? I found the book to be too violent, and full of stereotypes, and I also found myself making spontaneous changes in the story as I went along. What do you think?
Re: The Five Chinese Brothers
Times have definitely changed. When I was a child, the Five Chinese Brothers was probably the only book I was exposed to that featured any Asian characters at all. This was a breakthrough in itself, so there was little talk of stereotypes (and even if there was any objection, did Asian people feel empowered enough to complain)? But you’re right; it is quite violent, but I don’t remember being afraid of the story, as I wasn’t particularly afraid of violence in fairy tales. We both seemed to remember this story with fondness — what is it that stayed with us all this time?
I think more the novelty of five identical brothers. Identical in appearance, but with different extraordinary skills that made them individuals. We cheered for their ability to outsmart the emperor and triumph in the end. The protection of the story shielded us from harm. We could witness this from a distance.
Ken Mochizuki has written an excellent article about Asian stereotypes at PaperTigers.org, where he cites this book, and rails against the yellow peril portrayed with slit eyes and identical queues.
Fortunately, progress has been made, and writers and readers are now very conscious of political correctness. There are two good re-tellings of this old tale, with seven siblings instead of five: The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy, and The Seven Chinese Sisters by Kathy Tucker. Now, females have gotten into the act with special skills (and there’s no violence)!
If I were to read the original version to children, I wouldn’t water it down, but I would definitely invite questions and discussion to satisfy any doubts or fears the students might have, even explaining that the book was written long ago, pointing out how things have changed for the better. We still have a ways to go, but the best gift we can give children might be to take an example like this to inspire forward thinking.
Thanks for your interest and great question!!
I don’t know that I read any Georgette Heyer, but I’ve certainly read my share of Regency romances. I also went through a major Madeline Brent phase, as well as a few other similar authors. Oh the swooney romance of it all.
Thanks for the reminder about librarian appreciation. I believe I’ll call my local elementary school librarian for a lunch date, and give a new book to the middle school librarian as well.
I’ll have to look up Madeline Brent! Georgette Heyer was definitely just a phase — pure escapist reading, and of course, I loved all the period talk.
You’re going to make two librarians very happy this month! Yay for you!
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