I’m so happy to report my essay “A Life in the Library” took 2nd place in the competition for the Jean Nelson Award at the Lakefly Literary Conference last week in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I’m posting it here–and you can bet I’ll enter next year’s contest, too.
A Life in the Library
“When I grow up, I’m going to work at the library so I never have to leave!”
Mom says I used to make that declaration often as a little girl, when our library time was up. Then, at home, I’d slip the date due cards between the leaves of the dining room table and make a “kerchunk” noise, as if checking them out.
You can see, it was my destiny. Between my love of reading and of books in general, where else could I possibly end up?
I’ve worked at the Cudahy Family Library for thirty years now—over half of my life—and cannot imagine a better fit. I began at the Circulation Desk, checking materials in and out and getting to know all our regular patrons well. Did you know some folks visit their library every single day? True!
One patron, looking for tax forms way back in 1983, dazzled my girlish heart. I was twenty three at the time and new at the library. He was tall. Dark. Handsome. In fact, he could have stepped right off the cover of a romance novel in the paperback section. I took my time showing him over to the table of forms and binders. Then, I encouraged him to come back for the income tax assistance program on Wednesday night. Lucky for me, he did. We were married five years later and have filed a joint return ever since. I’m probably the only woman alive who feels a shiver of happy memory at the words Internal Revenue Service.
The Dewey Decimal system and I have become close friends over the years, and I can now rattle off call numbers just the way I recite the phone numbers of my family. It’s a handy skill to have developed, too, because these days, I work at the Reference Desk, doing my best to find answers to questions both easy and obscure.
Sometimes, the questions are mine. When my father needed by-pass surgery, I looked up the procedure (under the call number 616.12) so I could fully understand it and ask the doctor what I felt we needed to know. My Mom suffered from rheumatoid arthritis (616.72), so I hit the books again, reading up on each new medication (615.1) as it appeared.
We used books from the travel section to plan our honeymoon to London (914.21), bought our first house with the aid of the real estate manuals (643.12), and learned all about dog training (636.708) when we unexpectedly acquired a darling little puppy just last summer.
And let’s talk about fiction! While I read Nancy Drew as a child, I now read the grown up equivalent, the cozy mystery. There are a plethora of authors who have brought me hours of pleasure, taking me to charming small towns (Lilian Jackson Braun, Sharon Fiffer) or foreign countries (Maddy Hunter, Elizabeth Peters), all to solve a crime. But I also love what is sometimes referred to as Women’s Fiction. Stories of families and relationships (Rosamunde Pilcher, Marcia Willett) can touch this reader’s heart and, especially lately as I’ve moved into middle age, offer comfort and advice. Seeing how characters handle difficulties, sorrow and loss may not change the way I do in real life, but, like a bit of girl talk, it reinforces the idea that “We’re all in this together,” and everybody knows there’s safety in numbers.
Yes, the library has been part of my life all of my life. It’s brought me fictional mystery and true love. Answers to perplexing questions, hours of cozy comfort, years of gainful employment–all have been mine, thanks to the library. Enriching, enabling, encompassing every aspect of my life, the library has truly been a force for change.
Do you have a library card?