The Location of the Library is the only thing you ever absolutely need to know according to Albert Einstein.
I spent my so-called formative years in a small farm town in eastern Washington. The business district is a mile strip along the river in the draw between the North Hill and the South Hill, where everyone lives. It is prone to spring flooding on high snow years, and those same winters used to find Main Street buried in feet of snow, with one lane plowed down either side of a big berm in the middle.
My family lived ‘in the country’ about five miles from town. We usually made the trip once a week, and sometimes more often, depending on the time of year. One of our stops in town was always the library. You had to walk up the steps that started you on the way up North Hill. The library was located above the Fire station, which was built into the bottom of the hill. You climbed maybe a dozen wide steps then turned left on a path that took you to the back of the upper story, and the library.
I spent a lot of time there as a child, even before I started school. I don’t remember a story hour but I do remember looking at picture books while Mom selected her own reading material. I’d pick out one or two for myself and watch the librarian stamp the due date on the gridded paper glued inside the cover, and then onto the card that was in an envelope in the book. I remember my pride when I was able to write my own name on that card to let her know who had the book.
Quite different from how it’s done today. You hand over your library card to the librarian who swipes it under a bar code reader to access your record, then swipes the book and you are on your way. In most libraries these days you can even do it yourself if you are in a hurry. Don’t even have to know how to write your name.
In the old home town, the librarian was an older lady or seemed so to my young eyes. She knew everyone, of course, and I suspect had been there since my mom was a kid. She would recommend books of interest to individuals as they walked in the door or give you ‘the look’ if she thought you were checking out something inappropriate to your years. I remember that look as I checked out “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” when I was in the seventh grade, but she stamped the date due on the card and slid it over for me to write my name. Mom wasn’t with me, but I expect she got an earful when she showed up. And funny thing is, my English teacher gave me the same look when I submitted it for a book report. I don’t really remember the story, but a Google check jogged my memory, and what would be regular fare for Young Adult readers now, “in my day” was rather risqué, and mature for a 12 year old.
I’ve gone through a few evolutions of library services from small one room facilities where everyone knows your name to larger University Halls where you could get lost for days. We even lived in an area once where we used the Book Mobile. It would arrive in our area once a week and stay for a couple of hours. We could browse the shelves for something to read, or request them to bring a specific book the next time out. Bookmobiles are still active in many areas now, and there is even a National Book Mobile Day in April.
Here in Kenai, Parks and Rec has begun a different project: Little Free Libraries. They placed one in the green strip at South Forest and Fourth and there is one also on the trail at City Park. These are designed for patrons to trade books. Just take a look and if there is something there you want to read, take it home. If you have something to share, leave it. Right now, the Forest Drive location is full of picture books, but I’m sure any adult is welcome to leave a good mystery. And Read on the Fly is available at the airport where an area is reserved for kids to select a book to keep them interested and busy on the plane. I have been to a couple of airports in the last month and Read on the Fly is up and running as a perk for traveling kids.
The old home town library has moved to Main Street and is bigger and busier than when I was a kid. Just like Kenai Community Library, coincidentally, on Main Street Loop. The more things change, the more they stay the same although I haven’t seen Mary Jo practicing ‘the look’ lately.