This was inspired by a hub a former hubber named Stessily. She shares my frustrations with libraries.
I blogged about this several years ago on my myspace page but, at that time, it was more of a rant than it was a story and commentary. I would like to thank Stessily for inspiring me to finish and update this piece and I dedicate this to her.
Stop by and visit her page...
Growing up, I remember the matronly librarians at my elementary school library, that would make a point to shoosh rambunctious children when they became to childlike and loud. This was never a problem for me. Certainly I was loud, as little boys often are, but I also held in great reverence the sanctity of the library and enjoyed its hallowed silences that allowed me to explore the world of books and pen my first childish masterpieces.
It was there that I went on adventures with Clifford the Big Red Dog and became friends with the Big Friendly Giant. I visited chocolate factories, Narnia and Middle Earth, without having to pack a suitcase, board an airplane or experience homesickness. The crinkle of plastic, which covered nearly all the books, was a constant companion during my explorations.
I would smell the books, enjoying the scent of stale paper on my nostrils. I’d run my fingers down the pages and across the spines and enjoy their smoothness. Sometimes I'd walk the stacks, slowly, tracing my finger along the books. In addition to names like Dickens, Shelley, Shakespeare, Seuss, Silverstein and Banks, the books had funny numbers, dots and letters. this was called the Dewey decimal System, prompting the inevitable and perpetual question of just who, in fact, Dewey was.
My school’s library had blue carpet and a sunken down reading pit, tiered with stairs. We’d sit around this pit with our classmates, staggered by the stairs, while our teacher or a librarian (usually Mrs. Kolcheski) would read us a story. It was here one day that I learned about Nasturtiums, and went to the store after school with my mother, bought some seeds, planted them and watched their failure to grow. I discovered Albert Einstein’s crazy haircut, Edgar Allen Poe’s sweet melancholy, the adventures encountered by a fourth grade nothing and witnessed the enduring magic of Cars and Trucks and Things That Go .
As we sat in the reading pit, the reader would sit across from us and hold the book, with the pages facing towards us and slowly scan the book across the room, making sure each little eyeball had a chance to view the illustrations. Sometimes the reader would affect their voice as they were reading to further our enjoyment and immersion in story.
The common thread through all this was that the only one speaking was the one reading. The listeners were quiet and respectful, perhaps fearful of an embarrassing shooshing .
It seems with adulthood, many have forgotten this etiquette. I recall one day, several years ago, where I had a library experience that would have had Mrs. Kolcheski shooshing herself hoarse.
My internet was not working at home, so I had been coming here for several days to check my urgent e mails until my cab;e company go around to fixing the issue.I sat between the stacks reading about dog behavior and waiting for my turn at the computer. Two little kids, apparently unsupervised and most assuredly under-parented, were chasing each other and screaming through the book stacks. If I hadn’t been so fleet a foot, I would have likely tripped one of them. There were no apparent parents, and no warnings from the librarians to be quiet or take their rambunctiousness outside.
It was clear that Mrs. Kolcheski did not work here.
My turn in the computer queue came, so I placed my book back on the shelf and left the children to continue their rambunctiousness.
Away from the kids, it was no better. Next to me, The Dude (you know, from The Big Lebowski ) sat next to me and loudly whispered everything he was reading. When he got confused (which was often) about how to log off the “internat”, or to open a new window, he hollered across the library for help. The librarians hollered back. This back and forth ensued for several minutes while I fought back the urge to “shoosh ” the librarians.
Oh, how I missed Mrs.Kolcheski!
The Dude finally figured out how to log off, but didn’t leave. This very large, crude, and foul smelling woman sat down behind the computers, waiting for either myself or The Dude to leave. She yelled across the library for her son to bring her a magazine while she waited for her turn at the computer. I recognized him as one of the kids who was running between the stacks. Meanwhile, her daughter, who was outside smoking, would periodically peer in, with lit cigarette, and holler at her mom to have her brother bring her a magazine also.
I was sad. Those children would never experience the joys of the library as a place of learning, a place of solace, imagination and reading. They would likely never journey to Narnia or Middle Earth, climb the Magic Beanstalk or awaken Snow White with a kiss. They would never inhale the stale paper, or touch the smooth edges of a page. They would never equate crinkling plastic with the magic of books. For them, the library would likely be a funny looking jungle gym where rambunctiousness was encouraged and where mom and sister yelled at them.
I left appalled and vowed never to return to that library branch. I longed for the days of elementary school when the threat of detention and an embarrassing Mrs. Kolcheski shooshing was enough to keep your voice down.
All rights reserved. Copyright Justin W. Price, March 26th, 2012.
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