Oddly enough, I don’t really remember my first time in a book store. You’d think that would be a momentous occasion for me–I grew up in the country without a lot of money, so a trip to someplace that was big enough to have a bookstore should have made an impression on me. But it didn’t.
Actually, that’s a lie. I have great memories about Library Limited in St. Louis. I’m not sure it exists anymore, and I’m sure it wasn’t the first bookstore I was ever in, but I spent hours there during college. Instead of plain sections marked off by different shelves, their sections were in different rooms. Here’s the mystery room. Here’s the horror nook. Upstairs is the fantasy niche. They played classical music. It was a fabulous bookstore.
But when I think of that “oh wow look at all the books” moment, I think about the Carrollton library. Like I said, I grew up in the country, but a few weeks before my 10th birthday we moved to town. Now, this wasn’t a huge adjustment–the place only had 2500 people–but what did change for me was accessibility. I could play at my friend’s houses, walk to school, and that summer I got my first library card. I don’t remember what the card looked like–frankly, I’m not sure once I got my card I needed it to check out books. Sally Smith was the head librarian and she ran that place with a tight efficiency. No one would dare try to check out a book if they didn’t have a card. She would know. She would know even if she weren’t at work that day.
Once school got out for the summer my cousin drove me to the library, and pushing open the swinging doors for the first time was amazing. Up to that point I had only had access to the school library, which had a two-book minimum and limited options. Once I signed my name and got my card I picked out ten books. I remember that exactly. Ten books. I struggled to put them on the counter and waited to be checked out.
Sally: You do realize, don’t you Kelly, that you don’t get to keep these books?
Me: Yes, Ma’am.
Sally: And you realize they’re due in two weeks?
Me: Yes, Ma’am.
Sally: And if you don’t bring them back you have to pay a fine on each book?
Me: Yes Ma’am.
She stamped the due date on all the books, the whole time giving me a skeptical look. I was a scruffy kid that she’d never laid eyes on before; I’m sure she thought she’d never see any of those books again. I brought them back the next week. I rode my blue bike with tassels on the handlebars and a basket on the front to do it. What books didn’t fit in the basket I balanced on my thigh, holding them steady with one hand while steering with the other.
Sally: You read all these books?
Me: Yes, Ma’am.
Sally: You know where the rest are at.
When I put ten new books on the counter, she smiled at me. Over the years we became friends as only a librarian can with their patrons they know well. She’s point out books I’d like, hold a new release back for me, suggest that I help a younger kid learn to love reading. One summer she gave me a job. My parents were instrumental in instilling my love of reading, but the librarian in my hometown did her part to cement that love into my bones.