The Library: Introduction to Joy

Do you remember the first time you ever visited a library?  I grew up in a small town of about 500 in northern Alabama.  In the early 1960’s our town still had its own public school.  It served first through sixth grades, and the principal doubled as the sixth grade teacher.

I remember the day.  It was very exciting.  Our second and third grade teacher (she taught both grades in the same room) had been preparing us to make our first trip to the school library.  I was excited.  I had gone home and told my parents about the pending “trip.”  The “trip” to the library meant walking down the one single corridor of our school from the first grade end to the sixth grade end.  The library was across the hall from the principal’s office.

In retrospect, I realize now that “the library” was a single, small room.  Its four walls were lined with bookcases that were filled with books on shelves that were much taller than even our teacher.  There was a small desk near the door with a box of cards on it and an ink pad.  I would come to learn that that was where our teacher would check books out to us (there was no librarian).

Our teacher taught us some things about the library.  It was a special thing to go there and look among books to find those that we would spend time reading, so making good selections was important.  The library was almost like a church–reverence was required while we were there, so we remained quiet, and if we remained there a while to read, we did so silently sitting at the tables in the middle of the room.   The books themselves required our care so that others would be able to enjoy the books, too.  And there was that last, most important thing.  I don’t know if my teacher ever said the word, or whether she just conveyed the feeling:  reading is a joy.  Reading is something to enjoy, and while I have spent much time reading things that I was required to, largely, to this day in my life some fifty years later, reading is for me an incredible joy.

As we begin our theme of “The Library” today, I wonder if we might trace in our lives our life’s story with books and with the sacred spaces where we find books.  The shapes of libraries and how we use them in relation to books and what we do with them continues to evolve in human experience.  Where did you first encounter books?  Do you remember your first trip to the library?  Do you have a “library” in your home now?  What is the role of the library in your life?

Bob Patrick

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