From the time my oldest was a toddler, it was clear that our relationship with the library was not destined to be a casual one. I still cringe recalling two-year-old Kai’s frantic attempt, at the end of story hour, to rally the departing mother-child pairs for one more round of ring-around-the-rosy – and finally, her last desperate bid to bodily block their path to the door with all her 25 pounds.
Two things became apparent that day seven years ago. One, we were done with story hour. I’m perfectly capable of reading books at home where there is no need to physically restrain anyone. Two, I now had allies in my private in-between world. My kis were going to be as hungry for stories as I was: my library hounds. Together we would steal away from our busy day-to-day and come here, who no one could find us, and sit cross-legged on the floor, turning pages.
Three kids in, we know all the branches: which one has vintage Babysitters Clubs and self-checkout; the best audio book selection; pint-sized tables to do homework; a book sale annex; a young librarian with a master’s in mythology; oversized picture windows or else that cloistered, cozy, attic feel.
It almost seems too good to be true, in this day and age when all ou hear is that nobody reads anymore, that these sanctuaries persist in almost every town, each branch with its own flavor and quirks, all similarly, marveously immune to the pressures of capitalism.
The library has emerged as an anchor in our lives no matter where we wander. We may in fact be toeing the line of legality at the moment, with active library cards in two states.
Having grown up in them, my kids’ comfort level in libraries has settled into a durable trait. My middle kid, Juno, who cannot yet read, comes home from school with a different book in her backpack nearly every day. Apparently, kindergartners can secure a hall pass for a solo mission to the library, one of the many things I love about the school hustle-bustle.
Reading has no off-season, of course, but if there is a Reading Season, winter would be it. When our breath turns frosty in the bedrooms and we pile into the great room where the woodstove is and, inevitably, start to pummel each other physically and verbally, and Dion, 3, begins to tear handfuls of his sister’s hair out, that’s when I know: Reading Season has arrived. It is books that will see us through this most wonderful time of year, which stretches endlessly on until we’re all about to get rickets from lack of vitamin D. There is no cure for the winter doldrums like a library book and hot chocolate with a cinnamon stick, maybe even a marshmallow if it’s snowing
On gray, slushy days when the world feels intolerably lonely, the library begins to take on a hallowed glow in my eyes (barring a pandemic flare-up, in which case it may, ever so depressingly, close). Surveys show that kids are reading less and less for pleasure with each passing year. The adorably useless English major is becoming an endangered species. Yet the doors still stand open to us holdouts, offering a thousand and one portals of escape from the dark Northeastern winter: a popover recipe, juicy tabloid intrigue or an autobiography of the person you’ve resolved to be more like in 2022. Or maybe it’s nothing more than a thoughtful book display that seems to whisper: We, readers of ink on paper, are a long way from extinction yet.