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. Growing up in India, there was no such thing as a public library! We were fortunate to have a library in our school where I discovered Shakespeare, Bronte, Wordsworth and others. Too many stories tied to libraries to recount here – suffice it to say that one of my life-changing ‘ciunseling’ sessions was in the school library.

    I think America has to decide – what price are we willing to pay to grow our public institutions? For grow them we must – if we go into ‘preservation’ mode, we endanger them.

    Kumud

    1. Private libraries are treasures as well, and I also love the availability of the public library. It offers a way to climb as far as any person wants to into any area of knowledge, and can help young people – all people – grow. Exercising the mind is a fundamental need for growth I thingk. Thanks for sharing your experience here.

  2. This post makes me think of how so many of our libraries in NYC are facing possible budget cuts this year. Which would make them open less days and hours. I don’t understand why they would chose to cut funding from libraries… Perhaps we could all mail in stories such as these to our representatives to let them know how much libraries mean to us.

    1. Dissapointing to find that our local library in Brooklyn, the one I can walk to, is closed on the weekends. If a person is working or in school, it is difficult to get into the place and check out books. Funding for library hours seems such a small financial cost for providing such a large source of solice for many. I hope others raise a voice as you suggest.

  3. Jennifer, my husband and I visited the New York Public Library for the first time in May and then went to Carnegie Hall, also for our first visit. It was our privilege to learn that we were seeing those two venerable institutions in the same month as the 100th year anniversary of the dedication of the library and the 120th anniversary of the opening of Carnegie Hall. Since Andrew Carnegie enabled the founding of so many libraries, it seemed appropriate to also visit the hall that bears his name. We were impressed with what we saw and learned at two of the world’s best known landmarks.

    1. Barbara thanks for sharing this experience here about the library and Carnegie Hall. Carnegie showed how a person can really make good use of wealth, with his gifts that kept so much culture available to more and more people. It’s been one of the benefits of being in the city, the public institutions here. I hope New York City was good to both of you while you were here, it can be a wonderful place to be.

  4. I hope you asked your psychiatrist to read Auden and Yeats, and then ask him what his point was to his question “But, they’re dead, Jennifer” He should think about Yeats poem Easter 1916.

    “Too long a sacrifice
    Can make a stone of a heart.
    O when may it suffice?”

    While comforting to know that all that education was not wasted on the psychiatrist in so far as knowing that these two literary giants were in fact dead, perhaps the gift of a library card would have been a better payment for his services rendered that hard cash. Excuse the satirical tone 🙂

    Libraries scared me as a kid, they were ominous and to an extent I still feel the same way. Also I have a habit of wanting to write notes and highlight in books so that does not work very well with Libraries.

    They are wonderful places though for all ages to enjoy and should be used as liberally as possible by all. Knowledge is a terrible thing to waste.

    1. Simon thank you for this hilarious response. I am laughing out loud here. Our town library where I grew up was small and quiet and so very comfortable. I think I read just about everything they had that interested me, except reference books by the age of 16 or so–as well as what was in my parents private library at home. I treasure both kinds of libraries. In no case was I ever allowed to underline or highlight within a book, nor draw illustrations for it (an impulse I had all the time), that thought scares me a bit even now. You know, no one ever tried to talk to me in a library, no living person I mean, yet what a wonderful communion of souls is there. I hope future generations here will have the public library.

  5. Reading your post, reminded me of this poem I write a few years ago about my experience in the library as a child! I couldn’t resist posting it! I forever will love the library!

    The silence.
    I love the high shelves of a library.
    I feel as if I am lost
    Trespassing on a foreign land.
    I am a child again
    The tall shelves and rows of fiction
    Towering over me.
     
    I creep towards this area
    The bookshelves reach the ceiling
    The silence rests and surrounds
    And something tells me
    This magical place will disappear
    If words are spoken.
     
    In hushed footsteps I wander.
    I am lost in the moment
    I go through the aisles
    Lost inside the pages of the books
    Where the words are my stepping stones.
    I smell the old memories of the hands and eyes
    That once read these words, these pages.
     
    I can hear the noises of typing
    As the writer bleeds out those sentences.
    I can feel their hands aching and cramping
    But the mind and soul say to them
    Go, go, don’t stop or the magic will end.
     
    Now, I am lost in this magical world
    As though created by someone casting a spell.
    Now, I sit drinking coffee with a character
    Discussing the events at hand
    The ones troubling them
    That keep the story going.
     
    I see a version of myself inside these pages.
    I see all of me.
    I drink up the words like a thirsty man to water.
    I am now out of the pages.
    I feel the spell slipping away.
    Please….no one speak…..I am not ready to go back.
     
    But I want to remain here
    Lost in this place I know so well.
    Where everything is safe.
    Where even the dangerous moments are ended swiftly
    At the shutting of a book cover
    Until you can go back, bravely, once again.
     
    I want to live in these words.
    I want to live in the ones I write.
    I love these words, these pages, these books, this library.
    I go there in my mind sometimes
    And remember these moments in awe.
     
    I stand among royalty
    As I stand among these books
    I don’t even need to open them
    To get lost inside their pages.

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