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Marissa Lingen

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It’s okay if it’s just like. [Nov. 18th, 2014|08:02 pm]
Marissa Lingen

I saw this post, which is called “A love letter to my first library,” and I thought, well, it’s shameful confession time for me.

I don’t love my first library.

My first library was adequate.

I loved going to the library. I wanted to go to the library more, ever more. We went no less often than fortnightly, usually weekly, and it was a treat, a highlight, always. When I was the size of child without perspective on managing household tasks, whichever parent had just taken me to the library had a halo, as though they had not arranged it between them: “I’ll stop by Target and pick up shampoo and Scotch tape while she’s at church choir, and then we can go to the library and the bank on the way home,” or whatever the errand list was that week. Whichever parent hadn’t gotten the library rotation would hear, “Daddy! Mommy took me to the library!” or, “Mommy, guess where Daddy and I went?” Because when you’re 4 years old and perpetually book-short, “Why don’t we go to the library?” is one of those suggestions that can only be met with, “HOLY CRUD YES HOW BRILLIANT I LOVE YOU YOU ARE THE BEST PARENT EVER.” Every. Single. Time.

But the library itself? It was brown and small; it was quiet and had the right kind of quiet that libraries should have, and it had the right kind of booky smell that libraries should have. But it also had a horrible habit of stocking books two and seven of whatever series you wanted to read, and I had already read most of what was there before I could really remember being old enough to read it. This was in Omaha, where literature and education are less a priority than they are here. Their library system was extremely sporadic about use of the rocket ship or atom stickers that most science fiction readers talk about, so I didn’t really connect with genre as a marker of things I liked until I had a moment of epiphany when I was much older. They had the barbaric practice of limiting children to ten books at a time, under which system I chafed horribly. I read no more slowly then than I do now, but children’s books are shorter, so I would end up rereading whatever I’d liked of the ten books several times in the week, plus several of my own books at home. And interlibrary loan was a thing of dreams then. If it wasn’t there, well, it wasn’t. You went to the library to get what was at the library. Other branches? What other branches?

So I spent much of my childhood yearning for Grandpa’s library, because what you wanted was already there. With adult perspective, this is not because I went there less often, although of course that helped. Grandpa’s main library was the Hennepin County one by Brookdale, although he also went to the little one in Brooklyn Park. It really was gigantic. It really was full of wonders. Objectively, it is an amazing library. And this was readily apparent to me from the time I was first taken there, which was when I was very, very small, because it was readily apparent to Grandpa that I was the sort of small person who liked the kinds of outings he liked pretty much immediately.

So my first library, my home library when I was small…doesn’t have the traditional “I grew up to be an author” library magic. It was a good place. I liked going there. It was enough for me to like it. Sometimes a like letter is enough.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


[User Picture]From: txanne
2014-11-19 01:46 am (UTC)

This seems to have gotten long.


I got around the one at the downtown library by very ostentatiously going over to my dad and asking to use HIS card. I don't know why the tiny branch library that was my first one* never cared; perhaps I went there before I was old enough for a card.

Then they built a branch that was in BICYCLING DISTANCE oh yes, though I mostly still went with my dad because books + bikes = not enough books. They've since expanded it, and it still looks weird.

Now I have a decent if tiny library in WALKING DISTANCE, or the bus if it's raining, and it's wonderful! Because the BPL will let you request any book in the system, and no matter where it really lives, they will deliver it to your branch of choice. IT IS MAGIC. A year later, and I'm still flailing about that. (We won't talk about the Smithtown system. The one in Joplin had it beat hands down. Boy, was that a disappointment.)

*they had ALL the Colored Fairy Books and ALL the Cherry Ameses. And a steam engine parked out front.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-19 12:49 pm (UTC)

Re: This seems to have gotten long.

All that and steam engine parked out front? Your first library sounds like The Place.

Our library is in walking distance, too, and yes, we have gorgeous lovely ILL. Dakota County ILL is great, and then--this is Minnesota. If you really need something, you can get it on ILL from anywhere else in the state. And you can return your library books to any library in the state. If you're going for the weekend to Duluth, you can take the library book you haven't quite finished, finish it, drop it in a Duluth library's return bin, and pick out a different one from their stacks and return it at home.

I don't do this, however, because I classify it with the summer reading programs when I was a kid: not for people like us, who have social resources. My mom was quite explicit about the summer reading programs, that they were not for people like us, and I gradually internalized what she meant: they were for people who had to have incentives to read other than, well, reading. And making the Duluth library run our books down to the Twin Cities instead of being organized ourselves is not a good use of state resources for us. For people who are marginal/borderline readers, for whom it makes the library system more friendly/welcoming? Absolutely, come on in, the library is glad to have you.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-11-19 01:47 pm (UTC)
Hah, I'm pretty sure we had a six book limit. I don't remember feeling particularly hard done by at the time, though. I did have books of my own and books borrowed from school (and playgroup before that) and I'm pretty sure we went to the main library in town at least weekly.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-19 05:23 pm (UTC)
Six books, I would have keeled over. I mean, yes, I had books of my own, but you could only have two from school, and I had read all the books in the school library. Literally all of them. The school librarian, Mrs. Huntley, bless her, would let me at the new books first, because everybody else had new-to-them books still on the shelves, and I didn't. My teachers used to send me to the school library multiple times a day so they didn't have to figure out what to do with me, and so having two books out from the school library at any given time was no help at all. Six books! Oh, what a thing.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-11-20 11:02 am (UTC)
I think you probably read faster than me (possibly a lot faster than me) and may well have been more dedicated about fitting reading into breaks and so on, but even so I'm puzzled by the multiple-books-per-school-day. We had half an hour's quiet reading, and if I'd finished a book during or just before that, I could get another one, but that was pretty much it.

If I'd been reading something at playtime or lunchtime and finished it (and I often didn't read then - too much weather, and I did like running around too) I was expected to amuse myself in some other way.

I'm trying to work out whether I wasn't quite as driven to read as I think I was, or whether I just meekly accepted the limits on time and materials and made up my own stories instead.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-20 04:30 pm (UTC)
I was also writing plays and novels and making paper dolls out of book characters and doing lots of other things. I didn't read at recess or lunch at all. But my school from kindergarten through fifth grade was teaching me really approximately zero things. It's hard to express how little it was teaching me. And my reading habit was part of the problem: it kept getting me further ahead of the things that they were supposedly teaching anyway. Some activities the teachers would require me to sit through anyway, but a lot of class was just worksheets I would breeze through, and given the choice of having me in class listening and asking questions when they taught things incorrectly (which they often did) or telling me to read/dispatching me to the library...well, I read a lot. Quite, quite a lot.

It's partly that I was a really bright little cuss with nerdy parents, and it's partly that my school system was beyond bloody useless. For most of grade school their solution to "Mris already knows the math for this year" was "have her teach herself the next year's math and ask the teacher if she gets stuck." This only reinforced the "school is where you go to ignore the teacher and read things all day" trope for me.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-11-20 05:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, hm. Yes, that explains it.

I was very lucky with my primary school. There was quite a lot of independently working through workbooks and asking the teacher when stuck, and while this was often mildly boring (and I slow down when bored - I didn't realise until I was in secondary school, so I was perpetually puzzled about why people a book ahead of me were asking me to explain their Maths to them), it meant that it was harder to run out of stuff to do.

And then there were craft projects and class plays and mini Science projects and multi-age small groups investigating things that the teacher thought would be interesting (like nautical signalling, with learning the flag alphabet and harbour signals and a trip to the nearby harbour) and History projects with some independent research and making up stories, and LOGO, and writing Choose Your Own Adventure stories, and getting to have a go at algebra early (not that they called it that) and so on. It's harder to get ahead of that sort of lesson.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-11-21 09:59 am (UTC)
I've just realised that when I said 'independently working through workbooks', I didn't manage to distinguish that from 'have Mris teach herself next year's math', because I left out the useful information that everyone was doing that, not just me. There wasn't a 'this year's math' - our classes combined two or three years, and everyone was working at their own pace, under supervision. I don't know what would have happened if someone had run through all the available workbooks, but I strongly suspect that something would have been found.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-21 12:36 pm (UTC)
Right, understood, it's very different when it's a system than when it's, "Aw, crud, what do we do with this one?"
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-11-21 04:07 pm (UTC)
Yes, especially when the question is phrased like that rather than "Is our system working for them, and if not, how can we improve things?"
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-21 08:53 pm (UTC)
Hah. They didn't even care if the system was working for the kids who weren't any trouble.
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-11-24 08:58 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: takumashii
2014-11-19 04:03 pm (UTC)
My favorite thing is when patrons ask -- cautiously, anxiously -- how many books they're allowed to check out, and I say "Ninety-nine," and they look at me the same way I would have when I was young -- oh, what ridiculous luxury! Like the time I took out so many Jean Little books from the public library that I overestimated my ability to walk home carrying them!

Coincidentally, I have just interviewed for a librarian job with Hennepin County. I am wobbling between anxiety at the prospect of a very fast cross-country move, and excitement at working for a system that hopefully gets a little more support than the one I'm working for, so I feel good about this.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-19 05:26 pm (UTC)
Good luck with your interview having gone well! I will hold my thumbs for you. (And now you can tell that I read Noel Streatfeild as a child.)

And it sounds wonderful to be able to be the bearer of such good news. Ninety-nine books, when people are used to ten or twenty or, God help us, six! That's like being the person who announces winning lottery checks, except that you announce them to every single person.
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From: vcmw
2014-11-19 05:32 pm (UTC)
Interlibrary loan was not much a thing in the libraries I used as a kid. My mom dealt with my desire for new books by paying for library cards in I think five or six different towns, and as a special treat she would drive me to the towns with the bigger libraries to load up on books that way.
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From: lynnal
2014-11-19 09:27 pm (UTC)
My first library was Roosevelt branch in Minneapolis. It is one of the smallest in the system. I didn't realize that when I was a kid. I started going to the library every week as soon as my mom felt it was safe to take a new baby out in public. The librarians all knew me.

My mom was like you in being a fast reader. She always went to the new arrivals shelf first. I never ran into a book limit because she checked out my books along with hers. I remember being happy when I was allowed to move from the little kid's rack to the juvenile racks.

The Nokomis branch opened while I was in grade school. It was much bigger and new and shiny. We would go there sometimes, but Roosevelt remained my home library. My family moved to the suburbs when I was 12 and the Golden Valley branch became our new library. I went back to visit Roosevelt many years later and was amazed at how small it is.

My current branch library is not a lot bigger than Roosevelt. It is a convenient place to pick up book requests from the larger system. I am also close to a library at work. They all feel like home to me now.
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From: diatryma
2014-11-19 10:16 pm (UTC)
My first library was in Marion, Indiana, before they built the new one. The children's room was downstairs and had... orange? I remember orange. I know Mrs Claire did crafts and talked about tacky glue and I didn't like tacky glue for some reason. I know I disliked the ending of the Paul Bunyan movie, which I saw a fair amount. I first discovered I hated the Hokey-Pokey there. I did storytime and something where we had paper on the carpet. Upstairs, I watched The Fox and the Hound, which was newish though I didn't know it, and maybe The Aristocats because that gives me huge deja vu. At one point, the Muppet people came to do a show. I might have been older then. We made reindeer out of coat hangers and pantyhose and a draft thing that my family still uses.

When I was in kindergarten or before, they built a new library. I remember the shelves being tall and metal. The desk was off to the left and the summer reading program had spiders and bug stickers. I never knew about checkout limits because at that point Mom worked at the library. She signed me up for the fourth-grade summer reading program, which pleased me, and I got a lot of Wendy's coupons. At the end of the summer I was seven, before we moved, I took the entire family out for lunch and we spent eighty cents for a drink for Mom. I'm still proud of that. I got to have the kid's meal because I was in charge. My first chapter book was Lightfoot the Deer, part of the yellow hardcovers I never knew how to describe other than that.

To this day, my mother cannot return a library book on time. Absolutely incapable of doing it.

(Also, someone left a bunch of tobacco stock to the children's library years ago. The librarians were told to be really quiet about it and enjoy the gobs and gobs of money they had. Man that must have been fun, having gobs of money for summer reading programs and Muppets and things.)

Then we moved to Freeport. Instead of browsing the entire children's section, I found the paperback shelves and stayed there for years. I'm not sure why beyond not knowing how to find anything on the shelves around the room-- maybe I could have used more hand-holding. I will forever resent whoever put Animal Farm on those racks. Piers Anthony, too, a bit, and the general mismatch of series here and there. When I was already nosing around upstairs, they put in four feet of YA shelf near the new books. When I was in college, they built a new one of those, too. I think both of the old libraries were Carnegies.

So 'my first library' is a little complicated in meaning. I didn't have the continuity of Always even before we moved, and then I feel bad that I never read the hardcovers or even browsed them very much after. I don't feel like I failed at library, exactly, but I'm with you: this is not a love letter and it doesn't have to be.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-11-19 11:36 pm (UTC)
The Wendy's coupon thing is important. It was good that you were in charge, but not only that, that you earned being in charge. It wasn't just that Auntie Whozit said, "Let's let Mini Terror Bird choose, it's her turn," or something like that. That's a big deal, for a kid to have that kind of opportunity to earn that responsibility and control.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2014-11-19 10:43 pm (UTC)
I can sympathize. My first bookstore (a branch of Marlo's) wasn't even adequate if you wanted much more than bestsellers or Cliff Notes.

Lucky for me that didn't matter so much because this was my first library, all five floors of it. The limit was twelve books, but that didn't matter either, because it was two blocks away on the near side of the Big Street with Traffic Lights, and because that was all I could carry anyway.

Edited at 2014-11-19 10:45 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2014-11-24 02:51 am (UTC)
I think my hometown library had a book limit in the ten or a dozen range. However, the number proved to be much less of an issue than mass. So I made the conscious decision to concentrate non-fiction. Tables and diagrams have much better re-"read" value without a few months to forget in between readings.
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