There were four libraries in my childhood. I loved them all.
The first was a former private house that had been re-purposed into a public library to serve the town I grew up in and the next town over. The children’s department was a second-floor room filled with the magic of books that I borrowed and devoured regularly. No library card was more well-worn than mine, and I borrowed the limit every time, faithfully returning the books in good condition before their due date so I could borrow more.
The second library of my childhood was the building the two towns erected on the site of the former library, to replace it. They moved the old library off its foundations and set it back on the property, while constructing the new structure on the spot formerly occupied by the erstwhile private house.
It had a different smell to it, but overriding the smell of newness was the scent of books. Larger, it had room for an expanded collection, to which was added an assortment of 33-1/3 LP record albums. I borrowed from that trove as voraciously as I did from among the books.
The third library of my childhood was the school library in junior high school. I signed up to be one of Miss Kellogg’s “library helpers” and happily shelved books, checked books out, put library covers on new acquisitions, and did whatever else the librarian asked of me.
That was also one the first places I discovered my love of puns and other wordplay. There was a book on the “history island” (a double-faced set of shelves containing books on history, both American and foreign) that was one of a series covering different decades in history. Although no history buff, I found the writing in this series lively and to my liking. I have long since forgotten the name of the author or the title of the series, but in the book covering the thirties, there was a chapter titled “Alcohol and Al Capone.” The play on words tickled me. The chapter title has stuck with me through all these many, many years.
Oddly, I don’t remember the high school library at all.
The fourth library of my childhood was situated in a town in Massachusetts. I had grown to love the town in which was located the camp I went to every summer—so much so that, by the time I was 16 I was taking solo trips up to Massachusetts for four-day stays in the town once or twice a year over school vacations. The town had a library, and you should not be surprised to learn that I was drawn to enter it.
The librarian, a Mr. Abercrombie, was getting older and found it more challenging to keep up with the work entailed in keeping the library. When I volunteered to put in a few hours each
day of my stay, he was both delighted and appalled: I would be giving up some of my vacation time to work! I assured him it was work I would love, and he gratefully accepted my offer. Thereafter, every visit of mine to Monterey involved time put in in the library, helping Mr. Abercrombie.
The Monterey library had that same smell of books that I knew and loved from all the other libraries of my childhood. To me, it was a smell of love.