Public Libraries: Where Life Begins Again and Friends Live Forever

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.  -Cicero

If you have public gardens and public libraries, lots of us have everything we need.

Words of appreciation for the collection of books made free to all, from an activist, an entrepreneur, and an author:

  • When I got my library card, that’s when my life began.  -Rita Mae Brown
  • There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.  -Andrew Carnegie
  • Libraries are the one American institution you shouldn’t rip off.  -Barbara Kingsolver, in Animal Dreams

A library story follows, just because the journal is for these little stories.

After one of the particularly long dark parts of my life, I wandered along Prospect Park alone and then over to the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza in NYC. It’s a huge public library. I walked up the steps and after looking at the facade for a good long time, inside the building. At the time I had no internet access at all. I hadn’t spoken to anyone for a good long time when I walked in, other than those I was immediately related to or members of the medical profession. My mother had recently passed on from cancer quite suddenly, and I was having a hard time staying on the bright side of the world–as my memories kept returning to her, but not in a good way.

There, inside the cathedral-like space of the public library, I discovered the poetry section and selected some W. H. Auden and a few volumes of the Irish poet, W.B. Yeats. Trained as a scientist, I had never really studied poetry in school and so both authors were completely new to me. Leafing through the volumes, I knew these two had to come home with me for at least a week or two. So I applied for a library card and I brought them home.

During the next visit to my psychiatrist later that week, he sat beaming with happiness at me across his desk. Why? I told him I had made two new friends. I must say that his face fell and his usual concern returned when I told him who they were, Auden and Yeats. He actually seemed a little bit mad at me.

“But, they’re dead, Jennifer,” he said. Didn’t trouble me, but it certainly did trouble him.

I had a delightful time discovering the new poems and got back to writing some of my own again, a great release. Poetry can be a door to understanding the loss and the continuity of life as it keeps turning–death, birth and so on. I experienced the healing power of words yet again, one I never tire of rediscovering, and later returned to borrow more books. With the help of the public library we can regain the rich treasure of experiences found in literature that helps our problems seem smaller within the grand scheme of things.

Is it a true story? Yes, as I remember it.

Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, new friends, old friends and friends that live forever–a great thing about the public library is here you can find them all. And no matter where you find yourself on the curve of normalcy or abnormality, wealth or poverty, a friend is a good thing to have. Even if it’s for a week or two and then you have to take him back to his place on the shelf at the public library.

Do you have a library story to tell?

Please leave a comment to share views. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

14 thoughts on “Public Libraries: Where Life Begins Again and Friends Live Forever

  1. Thank you so much for that nice article about public libraries! I grew up in a quite wild quarter in Chemnitz, an industrial town in Germany. The local public library was a place of peace and silence, the gate to the world of spirit and poetry, a place where you must not fight one another.
    Later I worked self as librarian, unfortunately not for a long time.
    Many greetings from Leipzig, Germany, and sorry for my imperfect English!

    Jens

    1. Jens thank you for visiting and commenting on the article here. I appreciate you sharing your experience. The absence of conflict, the safe place of the library is a treasure too, in a troubled world. I felt that myself, and enjoy it even now when I can. Thoughts can unfold in a protected area while reading, it is a special privalege to keep libraries open where we can.

  2. I completely agree with Lillian. I can’t imagine how different my life would be without access to a public library. Growing up, very few of my teachers seemed to care about their students. I had only one teacher who encouraged reading. So for me, the library was where I received my education. I can only hope future generations have libraries to go to. Seems I have taken them for granted.

    1. Yes! Michael I feel that many of the real masters were found in the library. When I was a student in public school and in college and in graduate school, far too many teachers were not masters of anything at all, and did not enjoy teaching nor want to teach–I mean by their own admission not by my obervation. A sad state of affairs in a way, when the apprentice is learning from someone who is neither a master nor a willing teacher. The library never begrudged teaching me, you know? I always imagine each brilliant author is really quite happy with me reading and learning from them.

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