Phew! I’m glad to know the beloved library has not been sworn off. Books and a love of reading have been with me since I was little. Growing up in a tiny matchbox of a Jerusalem apartment, my parents even had shelving built even into the bathroom, spines of books lining those shelves.
Not that I ever read anything from those shelves — it was all grown-up intellectual stuff — but that visual alone is pretty indoctrinating. Maybe it’s that, or maybe it’s that I affectionately took to fictional characters like Jo March of Little Women or Belle from Beauty and the Beast, who were bookworms, always with their nose in a book; they personified girls of curiosity and content.
Then there was an endearing childhood book that I loved, “All of a Kind Family,” the very first chapter involving the Friday ritual of going to the library before Shabbat, to procure Shabbat reading material. Going to the library continued as a motif throughout the book, something that was similar to my life. In my family, come Friday, my sisters and I would walk out of the library with mounds of books. Immediately, we would glance at the card glued to the inner book jacket to see the stamped date of return, so we’d know how long we got to keep the books. Aside from the usual classics or other good books we got our hands on, we used to read through cookbooks and try out recipes. Plus my younger sisters went through an Archie comic book phase, so at times those were plentiful, too.
Other books were childhood favorites in which transformative scenes were anchored in the library.
But speaking of the convergence of reading, library and Shabbat, listen to this. Growing up in Jerusalem, where Shabbat observance was part and parcel of the character of the Holy City, back in the day the municipality had a little library truck come though the neighborhood on erev Shabbat. Eagerly, we awaited its arrival. When it rolled into the neighborhood, like agile mountain goats we were poised to climb the high steps of the truck that would usher us into this quiet booklined space on wheels, to swap out new scintillating adventures for Shabbat reading. We didn’t even have to go to the library, the library came to us.
I still remember being handed my very first library card by the librarian. I felt so grown up. And stood a little taller with it. It was the first identity document I ever had that was all my own. A passport was kept by my parents for trips. A library card was all my own, with the freedom to choose which books I would enjoy reading.
Of course, in reality, I’m not sure how ready I was for it, or perhaps that is part of the idea — to teach kids responsibility, but in the first years I was a library card holder, let’s just say I was often late in returning books. That’s when the reminder calls and messages came. My mother saving me more than a few times!
My father was a lecturer at the Hebrew University. I accompanied him many times to the campus, and to its library of course, but it was so vast and so academic and scholarly in its vibe that when I think of falling in love with a library, that wasn’t it. Although I was instantly mesmerized.
In high school, I loved going to the library. With no internet, it really was the place to read and discover. At first it was so confusing and I always needed to ask for help in organizing myself around the sequence of a particular library’s design. But once I got it, I relished it. I also snagged some really good books for a quarter a piece at various library sales, when inventory was taken.
The smell alone was welcoming to me. That musty bookish library smell told of long, uninterrupted peaceful hours ahead. Granted, library time was pressure, because it meant a serious assignment was on hand. But it was the library, so I could freely work at my pace, in the way that I wanted. And it’s the perfect place for spacing out a bit too, if that is on the day’s menu too.
As a teen, I remember once getting locked out of the house. Where to go? I fished in my purse and came up with an accumulated amount of pennies, nickels and dimes that added up to my sister and I getting a pita pizza plus fries and a drink, to split. Then, with the freedom of time, we went to the library — of course.
When I arrived in New York as a fresh university student, one day I accidentally discovered the New York Public Library nearby. I was astonished. Even before the iconic lions Patience and Fortitude, let alone actually entering it and witnessing the grand Rose Reading Room, the steps alone, the architecture alone, drew me in.
Just a short walk from my university, from then on, whenever I went there, I felt a sense of formality and rigor about my study, as I joined the home of scholars, writers and fellow students.
But in recent years, as I’ve noticed library hours shrinking, I have felt a pang for the glory of library days. You know, you want to know and feel that your library will always be there.
So I was heartened when this week there was a Twitter outpour from millennials for library love.
The other day, Andre Walker, a New York Observer columnist, in a series of tweets, negated the importance and use of libraries and even librarians. He started with: “Nobody goes to libraries anymore. Close the public ones and put the books in school,” read one. Then came, “I know this makes librarians angry but shutting libraries and putting the books into schools would be an absolute good.” The final tweet: “Librarians are like French teachers. These jobs exist in order to pay the wages of sad people who can’t get proper work.”
After Walker was inundated with thousands of tweets from people sharing their love for and use of the library, his humble pie tweets poured in. Walker conceded, “To be fair, the library users of the world burst my bubble today! I can only concede that libraries are popular.” And, “your sheer numbers have proved the point that libraries aren’t as unpopular as I believed this morning! Please stop replying.” But when the response tweets to his remarks continued, Walker ended the conversation with his final tweet: “I surrender!”
Now someone needs to send Andre Walker a library card so he understands what he’s missed out on.
Copyright Intermountain Jewish News