Ever since I checked out my first book in a tiny storefront in my West Seattle neighborhood, I’ve loved libraries.
At age 15 and 1/2, my first job title after “babysitter” was “page,” a library position that involved shelving books, stamping a due date on a sheet pasted inside the front cover, and staying as far away from the rigid, ancient librarian as possible. Had a program like “Jeopardy” existed then, I would have won in every category involving book titles and authors’ last names… in alphabetical order.
One of my “other duties as assigned” took place in the summer, when a library clerk took me with her to knock on the doors of people who hadn’t turned in their long-overdue books. In other words, repo girl. We traipsed through mile-high grass to reach the front doors of these book bandits, only to be greeted by barking dogs, but no other responses to our knuckles rapping on their doors. Thankfully, libraries eliminated this creepy task long ago.
While my mother dreamed of a job for me as an airline stewardess or working in a personnel department (“You get to talk to people,” was her reasoning), after I graduated from high school I felt certain I would become a scholar. (That was my introverted side kicking in.) One quarter of college confirmed that the career of “scholar” was not in my future. I would never be an intellectual and if I had a choice, “popular” would be more fun.
Despite pursuing more extroverted careers, I never lost my love for libraries.
We toured a medieval university library in Coimbra, Portugal last fall. Researchers needed special permission to enter and were required to wear cotton gloves. The bats that lived there had no such restrictions, but they helped control the insect populations in the library.
When I enrolled in a program at the University of Washington last fall, the biggest reward was receiving a library card. I didn’t register for the program this quarter, but I’m thrilled that my card is good for three more months. I’ve been using the library’s ample resources to do historical research for my next novel. As I comb the stacks for books, download virtual books and articles, and even squint over microfiche documents, surprisingly I feel a bit more like a scholar.