When I turned twelve, I didn’t get what I wanted for my birthday—to spend the whole day alone at the Flint Public Library. I wanted to go to the main library, the one downtown by the art museum. This gift, I reasoned, wouldn’t cost my parents a dime, except for the bus fare. But they had read too much in the Flint Journal, and how could they go through a whole day wondering if I was safe from all the city crime? So though this had been my wish since my first visit to the big city library, I had to settle for an hour now and again.
On that first visit, I had stood in the lobby and stared. I had never imagined so many books in one place. I wondered through the muffled stillness, past rows of bookshelves holding hundreds of books—old leathers with flaking gold lettering; new, with glossy dust jackets; colorful, with images showing the story right there on the cover; dark and secret with the story hiding inside; paperbacks holding each other up, tall books and skinny and short and squat. I breathed in their scents of paper and dust and ink. I ran my fingers over their spines. I marveled that I could pick up any one of these books and take it home.
And when I couldn’t go to the main library, the bookmobile came to me. Well, not right to me, but to my school, just blocks away—once a week, all through the school year and all through the summer. Right there in the parking lot, I could climb three steps and find books that would take me to India or Spain or outer space. I could explore the mystery of UFO’s or find a new Nancy Drew book that would turn me into a detective, right along with her. And all for free!
Decades later, I find that libraries keep giving.
“Come to the library,” their slogans say as they go fine-free, “where the only thing overdue is you.”
And the library keeps coming my way—delivering books contact-free to the trunk of my car and making books magically appear on my devices.
All this is wondrous.
Still, I’m old enough to wish for a day in the library, in rooms filled with books that have texture and thickness and weight, where I can flip pages and hear the crackle of bindings and get that vanilla-like whiff of paper filled with ink.