Question of the Month: Library

by Susan Henderson on July 5, 2010

Tell me a story about you and the library.

I loved my little, underfunded library when I was a kid. It was always a thrill to see which picture books were pulled from the shelves and set up along the window sill. I found many of my favorites this way: Georgie the Ghost, Whistle for Willie, The Little House.




When I had kids of my own, I discovered the true glory of the library. Though our house was filled with books, everything I bought for them represented my taste. But when we went to the library—because it was free and we could check out stacks of books—they could takes risks. They could check out a book they knew nothing about or try out topics they weren’t even certain they’d enjoy. They could wander away from my favorite sections and find that the world of literature was much bigger than what I’d showed them. There was non-fiction, horror, satire, sci-fi. It was at the library that they discovered Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, and my kids have been different—and very happy to be so—ever since.

Looking forward to hearing your own library stories. And if you have the time, I highly recommend this article by Carol Fitzgerald called Libraries and Librarians Are Endangered Species: What You Can Do to Help.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica Keener July 6, 2010 at 4:29 pm

As a child, my two favorite sensations associated with libraries are 1) a sweet scent and 2)muted sounds that combined caused me to enter into a hypnotic state. The moment I walked inside my town library I became dreamy and began to levitate, my body no longer tied to the floor. I loved the feeling of drifting from shelf to shelf. My town library was housed in a tall building with church-sized ceilings and high windows, and enormous wood tables with lamps. That aroma of ancient pages and ink, mixed with wood polish and whispers erased my perception of gravity, time and hearing. Library books presented rows and rows of doorways to secret and wonderful worlds.


Susan Henderson July 6, 2010 at 5:03 pm

So sorry the comments have been down, but when you see the new site, it will be worth the hassle and the wait! 🙂


Jessica Keener July 6, 2010 at 5:10 pm

(Am posting this again-not sure my post went through.)

As a child, my two favorite sensations associated with libraries are 1) a sweet scent and 2)muted sounds that combined caused me to enter into a hypnotic state. The moment I walked inside my town library I became dreamy and began to levitate, my body no longer tied to the floor. I loved the feeling of drifting from shelf to shelf. My town library was housed in a tall building with church-sized ceilings and high windows, and enormous wood tables with lamps. That aroma of ancient pages and ink, mixed with wood polish and whispers erased my perception of gravity, time and hearing. Library books presented rows and rows of doorways to secret and wonderful worlds.



Billy Bones July 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Can’t recall if I told you this before (I’m such a scatterbrained goose), but Mr. Lincoln came late to his love for reading. Despite the horrible reading habits of his primordial years, there was a brief stretch when he enjoyed his local library. It lasted about a month. Ending abruptly when he lost a book and never dared to go back and face the music.

Many years have passed since then and Mr. Lincoln has changed his tune. He loves libraries (and is partial towards librarians as well). He thinks it’s a disgrace the way funds are being cut: just one more way we cut our nose to spite our future’s face.

Here in Minnesota, local libraries are raising funds by asking for donations. Seems a sensible way to help in tough times, and maybe save us from our shortsighted selves.


Susan Henderson July 6, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Jess, I remember the smell of wooden puzzles for some reason, now that you bring up library smells, though I don’t recall playing puzzles there.

Bones, I bring brand-new book donations to my library every month. Some day, I’d love to be rich enough to make a huge donation.


Liz Sinclair July 6, 2010 at 11:48 pm

As a child, libraries were my second home, and I quickly learned that librarians could find me really cool, new books I hadn’t read, based on books I’d read in the past and liked/loved. I used to think librarians were so wise and all-knowing, just totally cool! How did they continually find me new books and new authors to fall in love with? Even my parents couldn’t keep up with my voracious appetite for books, but librarians always could. In recent years, in my local Richmond (Melbourne) library, the librarians buy every book I request for the collection, as they trust my taste and say I’m widely read and know books as I’m a writer. Now that’s coming full circle!


Susan Henderson July 7, 2010 at 8:11 am

What a great story, Liz. There’s nothing like telling someone your favorite books and they can magically produce more that you’ll love! One day they’ll be stocking your books, eh?


billie July 7, 2010 at 8:55 am

I used to go to the library every day and check out the maximum number of books (only 2, but at some point the librarian let me take out 3). Fortunately we could also take out 2 from the library at school, but we only had library day at school once a week.

Our town library was very small, a large room in a brick building that also housed the city “offices,” the police station, the jail (!), and the small courthouse. In a way, looking back, I like the idea of the library being in there with all those other things. From the first grade on, I walked home from school with other children from my neighborhood, and we stopped by the library and also sometimes tried to get a peek at prisoners (there were rarely any) on our way out.

The first book I ever checked out was Danny and the Dinosaur. I loved that book so much I think I must have checked it out hundreds of times. Books I had at home that I loved: Snowy Day, The Little House, Richard Scarry’s BusyTown. I read through the books for my age group pretty fast once I was old enough to stop by the library after school, so by the time I was 9 or so I was reading adult novels and all the new nonfiction that came in. I also did a lot of re-reading of favorites. I have good memories of all the libraries in my life – I suspect it was those early visits to the library that led me to end up working in university libraries while I was in college and then graduate school. I loved seeing all the books coming in and getting ready for lending.


Susan Henderson July 7, 2010 at 9:50 am

Ha! I love that the library was in the same building as the jail! And love every one of those books you mentioned.

How are your animals surviving this heat wave?


Nathalie July 7, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I used to spend many Wednesday afternoon in the library as a child. I spent most of my time there reading comics but I brought tons of books home. Well, tons… five was the maximum allowed each time, but that meant I could have five new ones each week.


Susan Henderson July 7, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Nathalie, I’m so curious: Why Wednesdays, and which comics?


Billy Bones July 7, 2010 at 6:07 pm

P.S. Just bought The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.I want to be different, too.


Susan Henderson July 7, 2010 at 6:20 pm

It’s a great, GREAT book!


patryfrancis July 7, 2010 at 8:42 pm

My childhood library was wonderful, but my very best library memories are the ones I shared with my kids.

It was our Tuesday night family outing for years and we all looked forward to it. I will never forget the lovely librarian who knew my kids by name and always had a couple of carefully chosen books waiting for each of them.


billie July 8, 2010 at 8:52 am

Re: horses and heat waves – I should do a video of them lining up in the afternoons when I stand in the paddock with the hose and the spray nozzle with all the settings (shower, stream, cone, mist, jet, etc.) They each have their favorite places to be sprayed and their favorite settings. On really hot days my older mare will come to the little barnyard when I’m cleaning breakfast tubs and let me know she needs an early morning hosing – by putting the part of her body she wants hosed right by my hand. Otherwise, they get extra salt in their tubs for sweat loss, lots of clean cool water, and I have three big industrial fans in the barn, which we close off to the sun and shift doors and windows accordingly as the sun moves through the sky during the day. They go in and out as they wish and are very good at finding the best/coolest place to be during these extreme heat days.


Susan Henderson July 8, 2010 at 10:33 am

Patry, I love that librarian for treating your kids like that!

Billie, I had no idea when I asked you about the heat that I’d hear such an amazing answer. Have you thought about writing a book about horses? Maybe a photography-based book?


Nathalie July 8, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Wednesday afternoons, kids in France do not have school (while on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, there is school from 08:00 until 17:00 or 18:00). The same is true for Saturday, but I usually did things with my parents on that day.

I read any sorts of French (or Belgian) comics which, back then, meant a lot of Asterix, Lucky Luke, Alix, Buck Danny, Yoko Tsuno, Tintin, Natacha, Les Stroumpfs, Spirou et Fantasio, Gaston Lagaffe, Boule et Bill, etc. Strangely enough, we used to have some of those in my junior high school library as well, though I do not remember seeing any at high school. And, of course, there has always been a lot of comics at home, although more with adult themes (fantasy and SF) as my father was buying them. Which never stopped me reading them too (they had wonderful graphics!) but I caught up on the ones we did not have (or did not have just yet) at the library.


Tish Cohen July 8, 2010 at 1:38 pm

My childhood library was a sort of mod, suburban place that was such a treat to visit. I would comb the stacks for every single dog book they had: reference books, dog novels I was too young to read (Call of the Wild!) and, of course, Lassie Come Home, Henry and Ribsy, Harry the Dirty Dog, and so many others. Many other books made it home with me as well and–how weird is this–quite a few I remember loving and can totally picture but have no idea what they were or how to find them again.

Now, with my kids, because I don’t have the type of brain that excels at returning things on time, we buy our books. My card may or may not have been revoked.

I know, bad mother.


Susan Henderson July 8, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Nathalie, The French school system sounds so very sane to me. I love picturing you with all those comic books around you. My kids love Asterix and TinTin! And Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side.

Tish, Harry the Dirty Dog is such an awesome book, but after Old Yeller, I couldn’t take animal stories… I was always afraid something bad would happen.

I often wonder what librarians think of those of us who lose library books. It does make me nervous to borrow something. One of the reasons I tend to buy a book rather than check it out is because I absolutely have to dog-ear books I love (like yours!).


Aurelio O'Brien July 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I could read before I entered kindergarten, so I practically lived in my grade school library. I’m guessing by sixth grade I read at least half of the books there. Walking through library stacks gave me a feeling of desire mixed with anxiety – I’d never be able to read them all. I imagined myself to be smart back then, before I knew better, so I consumed all the Encyclopedia Brown books and practiced a smug look every time I solved one without looking at the solution page.

I remember reading Where the Red Fern Grows, Flowers for Algernon, and The Human Comedy in junior high. High school brought me the plays of Shaw and Wilde, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and all the Narnia books.

My favorite thing has been to just explore the shelves, like a treasure hunt, to see what nuggets I’ll find.


Susan Henderson July 8, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Ooh, I love thinking of it as a treasure hunt, and how very-adorably-you to feel the anxiety that you wouldn’t be able to read them all! Thanks for the reminder of those great books. I was just talking about Oscar Wilde with a friend, not two days ago.


Aurelio O'Brien July 8, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Then you’ll love this Python clip:



Susan Henderson July 8, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Ha! That’s awesome.


Carolyn Burns Bass July 8, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Growing up poor–and quite aware of it–I realized early that libraries were great equalizers. In Southern California in the ’60s, I saw white people reading the same books as black people, ladies with diamond rings sitting in chairs next to ladies in muumuus.

My mother never took us to the library, but I tagged along with a school friend whose much older mother took us once a week. We’d walk like ducklings in a row, through the backstreets of a neighborhood that today is blighted and gang-ridden. Sadly, I don’t remember that friend’s name. I sure would like to thank her and her much-older mother (I don’t know why that sticks in my head, but it wasn’t as common in those days as it is now) for introducing me to the place where books lived.


Susan Henderson July 8, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Carolyn, I never thought of libraries as great equalizers, but you’re right. How sweet to think of you walking like a little duckling in a row. Hey, do you remember the book, Ping? The last duck used to get spanked with a paddle!

Hold on, I’m going to look it up…. 🙂


Ellen Meister July 9, 2010 at 11:04 am

This might sound a little goofy, but I love reading library books so much it’s almost a romantic attraction. I love the mystery of wondering who held and read and loved the book I’m holding. I love the soft, worn, often-touched pages. I even love the protective plastic keeping the cover safe. It’s so official!

Not sure when I developed this crush on library books. Feels like it’s been with me forever.

What I don’t love? When people WRITE in library books. This drives me crazy. The audacity! These folks are sociopaths and should be banished!!


Susan Henderson July 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

Ellen, I’m swooning! And someone should smack me hard for dog-earing those beautiful books.


Carolyn Burns Bass July 9, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Oh, I didn’t get paddled like little Ping, but I probably deserved a little scoot. I got tied to my chair in first grade, though.


Susan Henderson July 9, 2010 at 8:23 pm

I remember your story about the chair. I hope some version of it is in your book.


Eileen July 9, 2010 at 9:11 pm

My love for the local library coincided with my love for movies and writing. When I first discovered Cary Grant after a rainy Sunday afternoon screening of ‘Notorious’ the only place I could find more information on him and other actors and classic movies was the Remuera Library. (

Each weekend I would walk up and sit in the ‘Film and Theatre’ corner, thumb through the pages, and just fell in love with the industry.
It was such an enclosed, safe area and I can still remember the feel of the heavy books on my lap, the cracked plastic binding splintering all over me and the smell when I opened the first pages which would linger on my hands for hours.
It was where I discovered Leonard Maltin’s books and from that I started doing reviews for the school newspaper and two obsessions were born.

As much as I adore book stores, I find libraries magical. I think it’s knowing that each book has a history. The stamps at the back a fading symbol of the people who have shared the adventures, stories or facts enclosed within the pages, and you become linked to them.

We’re very lucky in NZ as the libraries are funded by the local councils so they don’t struggle for financial support. We also have mobile library buses which each week visit the communities that don’t have easy access to the public buildings. I’m very proud of the way we support and celebrate our libraries here because a it’s the soul of a city.

The best thing is after all these years, having moved back and forth, here and there, the Remuera Library is still my local 😉


Susan Henderson July 9, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Love your memory of the weight and smell of the books. And isn’t it interesting that both you and Ellen touched on the sense of history or connectedness to others who read that very same book? One of the first things I used to do with a library book was to read who’d signed the little card in back… and sometimes I’d be surprised by a name I knew, maybe someone I didn’t expect would share my taste, but suddenly I felt a kinship.


Nathalie July 15, 2010 at 5:38 am

I discovered The Far Side when coming as an exchange student at the end of high school. I loved it. And I was equally delighted by Calvin and Hobbes, which helped me later to deal with the little boys I was watching over, when I was at the University…


Susan Henderson July 15, 2010 at 7:00 am

My youngest son IS Calvin. 🙂


Nathalie July 22, 2010 at 6:04 pm

A very musical Calvin!


Aurelio O'Brien July 15, 2010 at 10:53 am

Bill Watterson is one of my personal heroes. Ever wonder why Calvin & Hobbs have not been turned into animated cartoons? Because Watterson didn’t want the purity of his readers’ personal experiences of them as they exist in their own collective imaginations altered. He didn’t want them cheapened. In short, he passed up copious amounts of money for a nobler goal.

Cheers to Bill Watterson.


Susan Henderson July 15, 2010 at 1:51 pm

He’s wonderful. There are words he created that are a part of our regular vocabulary right now… like “Calvin-ball”.


amy sue nathan July 20, 2010 at 11:52 am

My favorite memory of my library is that they had multiple sets of encyclopedias — and the best part of all? They had ALL the letters! We had encyclopedias at home but I don’t know if it was ever a full set — or if M and K stick in my mind for some reason.

The library was within walking distance of my house, and was the largest neighborhood library in the city where I grew up.


Susan Henderson July 20, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Amy, My favorite encyclopedias were D (for those pages of every kind of dog), F and H (for those clear pages that showed the insides of frogs and humans).

Love these library stories!


Despina Yeargin July 21, 2010 at 12:45 pm


It’s been so long and you’ve accomplishe so much! Love the new look.

I have something to share. It’s not a library memory, but it’s close. It has to do with my father’s book shop in Sparta, Greece, way back when I was so young that I was barely reading. It is very library-like. 🙂

The memory came from a writing session that I had with a friend. She pulled a topic out of the air, “Your favourite childhood space”.

It wasn’t mine alone, like a closet or an abandoned box that I could hide in; it wasn’t even a secret spot in the garden that no one ever visited.
It was my father’s book store, on a busy street in Sparta, Greece. This store was my father’s pride and joy having come to him at the end of a teaching career and in the midst of a family, barely growing. Not much room for new ventures, with all of that responsibility. But this is what he had, this new project, the fruit of his labour at last–a vision now manifested.

The walls of shelves filled with school supplies–paper, notebooks, pencils, pens and books. Floor-to-ceiling candy for the mind! Books, books, books! Other places, other people, magic and art and travels beyond my imagining. Here was something for a young mind to feast on: many exotic flavours, lots of different languages and a variety of shapes and sizes. There was no “one-size-fits-all” for me here. I’d try one and move on to the others, until I’d found the perfect fit for my mood and desires of the day.

My only problem was…I couldn’t read! I was too young! Fortunately, my budding inquiring mind would not give in, so I would wait patiently, ever ready to jump on unsuspecting visitors to the store and “invite” them to read to me. Who can refuse a charming little brown-eyed girl?

I remember my favourite place, I, a five year old, sitting on the floor of my father’s book store, The Secret School*, surrounded by a garden full of books; some were open, some stacked three and four and even five high. Books, my books, ready for the picking and feeding of my five year old mind…BURP!

*The name, The Secret School (translated from Greek), has to do with the Greek people keeping up their schools/education in hiding, during the Turkish occupation of Greece.


Susan Henderson July 21, 2010 at 1:55 pm

The Secret School. What a name and what a history! Your description is absolutely perfect. I wonder if you might pitch it somewhere as a children’s book? Maybe this link would lead you to a publisher who would be interested…


daryl July 25, 2010 at 8:31 am

I could write a book about the libraries of my life. My mother could easily have been a librarian for all the time spent in and love she has for libraries, which means I too could be a librarian. In some ways, we both are secret librarians. When we travel together, first destination is always the closest public library to where we will be staying. We obtain new library cards and come home with books about the local region.

Anyway, my earliest memories of libraries are in the city of San Leandro, California. there was the local branch (2 blocks from home). A tiny little building not dissimilar to the homes we all lived in. I mainly remember rainy afternoon visits. Warm, cozy, and quiet inside. Then on Saturday mornings she and I would go to the main library downtown. She would go to the big people section and I would go to the children’s section. The building felt like a magical museum. The architecture was spacious and maze-like with high ceilings, tall windows and hidden alcoves. I remember how mysterious it would be to go in search of her after i had chosen my books. She’d always be in a different section and there were always so many other grown ups there. It always felt safe and exciting to be around other people that were reading and studying.

Today is not much different. My mother and I go to the local library together 2-3 times a week and many weeks make excursions to other city libraries nearby. She is 80 now and is adept at using the online library systems, always reserving stacks of books on new subjects or by new authors in advance. My bedroom and office are stacked with library books and my bed, oh my bed, I always have the works of many strange story tellers & documentarians to sleep with.


Susan Henderson July 25, 2010 at 6:16 pm

What a great story, and I’m glad you’re both still regulars. Wish someone would do a documentary on people whose libraries are integral to their lives. Maybe you’re that someone?


daryl July 25, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Not an uninteresting idea at all. Certainly with the power and freedom of blogging and youtube, a project could be started to get people to make video stories about their love affairs with libraries. This is what I love about low-key publishing; you don’t have to be connected to a publishing mogul to start a grass-roots project. I’ll give it some thought! Thanks, Susan!


daryl July 27, 2010 at 4:37 am
Susan Henderson July 30, 2010 at 3:13 pm

If anyone here is looking for a job, see if this one suits you:

Arts & Literacy Coordinator for 21st Century Learning Center
YWCA of the City of New York;
New York, New York, United States
Salary: Commensurate with experience

(And thanks, Eric, for the tip!)


Jim Nichols September 9, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Argggh….late as usual. In Freeport, Maine there was the little brick Bartol Library. Every couple of weeks the Nichols kids would descend upon it, like locusts to a wheatfield (or whatever kind of field locusts fancy). There were nine of us, and we’d each leave with an armload of books, leaving the joint with noticeable gaps in certain regions of the shelves. (I just remembered taking out a book called The Bean and the Cod…a History Of The Boston Red Sox, so you know where one of the gaps was).

Cool Question, Sue!


Jenifer Mercer December 23, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Amy, My favorite encyclopedias were D (for those pages of every kind of dog), F and H (for those clear pages that showed the insides of frogs and humans). Love these library stories!


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