Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Library, My Refuge

In honor of National Library Week, Lori at Smoky Mountain Family History has challenged genea-blogers as well as others to post one tribute to libraries.

As a child, I loved to read and this came about at a very early age - I believe I was not yet three years old. I do remember being able to spell long words like xylophone at age three. But this ability did not come about by itself - my mother read to me all the time and encouraged me to read on my own.

My early school years, grades 1 through 3, were at Saint Peter's Catholic School in Liberty, New York where I grew up. We really didn't have a library per se; rather it was a large closet that had been converted into a "book room." To me it wasn't very welcoming and I never really remember going there.

I first discovered the library at school while I was in the 5th grade. To me, it was a fascinating place where I could spend all day if I were able. The librarians were women who were kind but firm. They enforced all the rules but also had time to help you find a book for a book report.

As I grew older, I spent more time at the public library in our small village. It was a fairly modern building that really stuck out among all the much older houses and stores on North Main Street. The Jacob and Edith Beck Memorial Library was a two story wonderland to me. For a boy from a small town, they seemed to have everything. When my mother would go in to pick up the latest "good read" that was on the bestseller's list, I'd beg her to leave me there while she went grocery shopping. By time I was 11 years old, I knew where all the different sections were and what they contained. And it seemed that I was always checking out books to read at home which was important since we really could not afford to buy them on our own.

The Jacob and Edit Beck Memorial Library, Liberty, New York

When I went off to college in 1980, I encountered my first really big library: the Gelman Library at The George Washington University. With seven floors and over 1 million volumes, I had everything I needed not only for academic research but for pleasure reading as well. Within six-months of arriving on campus, I had already snagged a work-study part-time job in the Acquisitions department. My main job was to process incoming books so that the Catalog department could enter them into the system. I enjoyed working there with a great group of people.

The Gelman Library, The George Washington University, Washington, DC

As if that weren't enough, as I started my graduate studies, I realized that I was in a city where I could take advantage of the ultimate library: The Library of Congress.

Large and imposing, I was determined to make it work for me - and I did. Beginning in my senior year of undergraduate studies, I was able to secure a "study shelf." This meant, rather than having to fill out a call slip and wait an hour for delivery of the book every time I went there, I could place books on a shelf labeled with my name. This made it much easier to go and perform research there but it did take the books out of circulation for other researchers. Luckily, the staff knew where the books were and sometimes I would go to my shelf a notice was left stating that the book had been removed and who was using it. There were times when this happened and it was fun to meet someone else also researching your same or similar topic.

The Main Reading Room, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

These days I don't get out much to the library but when I do, it is usually at the Harold Washington Public Library here in Chicago. This place is a wonder even from the outside! Although it looks like a large older building in the stlye of Louis Sullivan, it is in fact very modern. Plus who can resist the huge gargoyles posted at each corner of the roof!

Harold Washington Public Library, Chicago, Illinois

1 comment:

Lori Thornton said...

A great tribute to the libraries in your life!