Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Library: Then and Now

I usually make a trip to the Marietta public library every three weeks.

I usually check out between five to seven books, and if my three weeks has been a quiet one, I can get all seven books read -- if not, then I might only get three. I mostly read what I check out; rarely do I put down a book -- it has to be bad to do that. Really bad -- like Twilight bad or The Power of One bad.

*waves to Emily and Dr. P. on that last comment*

*tee hee*

Most books I check out have been recommended by people I trust or I have read the review. :)

I always take a list of the books I want to read..... sometime ago, I started a list of suggested titles, which is now close to 3oo books long -- and I take this list and walk around the library in search of the novel... the list ever changing as I add books and cross the titles of others out.

I use the Internet from home with "my account" to renew books or put a book on reserve [you gotta love the Internet for that], but I love going to the library and just perusing "the stacks" for any book that might meet my fancy.

I don't look to see if they have the book ahead of time -- like use the online card catalog -- I like the hunt in the stacks.

*trembles with anticipation*

It's all about that... the hunt, the chase, the pursuit... that's inherent in all of us --- it's universal. It's all about chasing that "gold" I want -- ask Keats, the poet, ask Faulkner, heck, ask Shakespeare --we all like the hunt, the search, and then getting the prize. Hello? Ahab? The white whale?

Well, I do.

The library has changed exponentially in the last ten years -- and changed so much since I was a child.

When I was a kid growing up in southwest Atlanta, our library was the Stewart Lakewood branch, run by Fulton County. It was less than a 1/2 mile from my childhood home, so many a day I would walk to the library to check out books, and if it was in the summer, I would hide out in one of their hard plastic chairs to be in the air conditioning.

Plus, in the summer, Atlanta city schools sponsored a "Read 20 books" and get a ribbon in order to encourage students to read. I used to do that in the first week of the summer and would roll my eyes at those friends of mine who thought it was "too hard."

Of course, my parents expected the love the reading -- since I grew up among piles of newspaper, magazines, and books.

I used to think that tables were for books and lamps -- what the heck were you supposed to do with knick knacks, anyway?

We had no room for knick knacks.

Checking out the books then involved a stamp with the date on it -- emphatically imprinted on a card nestled in the cardboard pocket of the back cover.

In my elementary school and high school, the library used a system that the student signed the card in the back, put their teacher, or for high school, homeroom teacher's name on it, and turned it in. I used to get all kinds of chills if the person who checked out the book before me was "cool" or "good-looking." I'd search the card for the "cool" person's name. It took me a long time to understand that those folks didn't read.


Just kidding.

Only not really.

At the public library, I used to open my books to the back cover in order to speed up the process for the librarian to wield her mighty stamp. She used to nod her head in appreciation. I felt proud to do my duty as a patron of the system.

It was quite exciting when the library went to the microfiche/picture taking for their check out system -- a hulking blue machine that took pictures of the card in the back [thus, the loss of the stamp sound and the card fill out ...*cries*] and filed it somehow under your name. It made this humming and clicking noise that I loved....I wanted to run that machine -- it was all kinds of mysterious and powerful.

I adored my home library -- a square building -- and the fiction books took up over 1/2 of the outer wall space. It's hard to know how many titles the branch actually had --- 5,o0o or 15,000 - - but it had enough titles that I read for a lot of years there and never wanted for something to read. In addition to the outer walls, there were between fifteen and twenty groups of shelves that came out from these walls also containing books.

They has a section that was totally devoted to children -- small chairs and tables -- and a "tale telling" corner where the librarian herself would read aloud books to small children on Saturday mornings. I never attended those -- don't know why -- but it could be because I learned to read at a young age -- and preferred my own voices. LOL

Stewart and Lakewood had a terrific research section. When I was in elementary school, I spent many a time there in the encyclopedia section researching "Spain" or "Montana" or "the solar system" in order to do reports and projects. Some of my friends had sets of encyclopedias at home, mostly the World Book, but my parents were too frugal and too poor to indulge in that when "the library is right around the corner." Plus, those things came out annually and were outdated quickly.

Later as a high school student, I spent many a school night researching for history or English papers, rushing to get through before the library closed at 9 or pretending to have "research" to do if it meant sharing a table with a cute boy with whom I shamelessly flirted -- and of course, meant that he and both got little done and would have to return the next night to finish the work.

A little bit of ancient history here -- but the library was a quiet place -- and this shameless flirting I did was in passing notes back in forth in the most surreptitious way -- in order to escape the glance of the vigilant librarian -- not only a woman who took her job seriously but also went to my church and knew my parents well. She would not have been above tattling on me and my behavior.

There was a lot of "shhhhhh" going on in that library, and we by and large behaved, but there were nights when more rowdy tables were kicked out of the library and their parents notified. No one wanted to be on that particular list --- and I did not want to suffer the repercussions of a phone call to my own parents.

Another perk of the library was the current magazine section -- all encased in these hard plastic covers to keep the masses from mucking them up. I never fooled with these in particular since my father subscribe to more magazines that I could ever get through: Life, Look, Newsweek, the Atlantic Monthly, Harpers....

It was in those pictorial magazines that I followed Viet Nam, JFK's assassination, the horrors of 1968, and Kent State. It was in the latter two magazines that I learned the delights of the essay and short fiction..

Man, I always get side tracked.

Today, the library is a different animal. I still love the fiction section, and the Marietta public library has a great selection, but the rest of the library is.. well, it's some kind of community center for the homeless and the out of work.

The homeless come in from the cold -- squat in a chair in the reading area and hold a book in their hand.. while they sleep. They put off some powerful aromas too --

In the study carrels, they put their heads down and snore up a storm.

Today, no lie, I passed a woman sitting in a study carrel and talking up a storm on her cell phone in the middle of the library.

Lady on phone: Yes, Uh huh. I told her she was gonna have to pay me that [expletive deleted] fifteen dollars or I was gonna bust her [expletive deleted] head. She borrowed that from me. Told me it was for her daughter's [expletive deleted] diapers. Said that as soon as she got paid, she was gonna come over and pay me back. Have I seen her? No? Do you think that [expletive deleted] ..... is coming over now? Oh no. She not telling me no more lies. When I see her, I'm gonna show her what [expletive deleted] happens when you lie to me.....
Yep.. in the library. That conversation.

*rolls eyes*

You know what else -- they have self service check out like Home Depot and Kroger. I now check my books out by holding first my library card and then each book and its bar code under a red light. It lights up like night goggles... I cover my stomach just in case its radioactive.

It's spooky. It's weird. It just ain't the library that I used to know.

BTW: I got nothing against homeless people, but you know if you are out of work, you could catch up on all those books you wanna read. I mean, I'm out of work, and that's what I'm doing.

I mean, you know what I'm sayin'?

BTW: Nan? I know that now they are called media centers, but you know, out here in the real world -- they are still libraries.



  1. Lol, thanks for the shout out. You will be happy to know that I have very much moved on from those titles.

    Also, I think I would have liked your kind of libraries better. I'm sad that they are changing so quickly.

  2. Emily: They are changing -- in to something else. And that's some kind of hybrid that has little to do with books...

    NSB: I think you noted that your public library there in NSB -- is totally turned into Blockbuster's? Long lines for videos and DVD's?

  3. You mean they don't still stamp the books? How sad! I suspect if I had lived closer to a library than a bookstore, I would be a really rich woman right now. I never would have checked out The Power of One. What section is it in? Is there a Dewey Decimal number for bad literature? I think the last time I was in a library was 1997 when I first moved to Ellijay.

  4. I still call them libraries! We live about three miles from one located in Grayson. The Gwinnett County library system is great but they are struggling with budget cuts. They have closed some branches and cut back hours. The branch we go to was opened about four years ago. I have developed a great relationship with a couple of the librarians who recommend books to me. Can you beat that?

  5. Jay -- there is nothing better than a well-read librarian. They are true gems.

    *waves to Nan and Celia*

    Do you remember, Jay, the librarians at South Cobb?

  6. I'm finally on the blog! Yep, school is the only place where a library is referred to as a "media center" and we in the know prefer "library" even when we are at school. As for the real world, do you think I might get to be in the real world one day? ...A place where I can catch up on the 300 books that I want to read or have been recommended?

  7. The library system in NSB has to cut $200,000 from their budget. Today they changed the service so patrons can not reserve videos from the "adult movie" section. God, that must save a lot of money. I want to hear the stories about you shamelessly flirting with the homeless!! Tell David he needs to start going to the library with you.

  8. I have to tell you the other day I was at one of the senior buildings where I see patients for physical therapy and there was a book mobile outside the building. It reminded me that every other Thurs in our neighborhood a book mobile would come so we could walk up and check out books. I loved going onto the bus and heading to the back to the kids section while my Mom stayed in the front looking at the Adult books. It brought back great mememories for me as did this blog! *sigh* I miss the days of card catalogue and the date stamp :)

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  10. This may just be one of your top five blogs for me.

    I started reading and I swear I could smell the paper, the musk, feel the rough ridges and grains of all those hardcovers I ran my hand across as I sauntered down all those aisles. Feel the sunlight on my face from the tiny second floor window in the far back corner I deemed "my spot". Feel the cool chill of the wall against my back as I settled on the floor, book in hand, ready to be transported.

    As a kid, I would ask my mom to take me to the library on the weekends. She'd look at me like I was crazy, but would take me anyway. I'd pick out maybe five or six books and again I'd get that look and a "Put some of those back, really, Pamela, you won't read all of them." (in French of course). I'd cling to them and she'd sigh heavily and relent. Always, the same routine, LOL.

    And I loved the stamper. It was always in red ink. I always wanted one but was denied, LOL, til we went to the local city college flea market one day and Dad said I could buy one thing under 5 bucks and lo and behold, alongside a bowl of gaudy costume jewelry and trinkets, sat an old cigar box with at least four of five of those roll stampers. I remember being so excited and squealing at my dad and he had no idea what was going on, LMAO, but he had promised he'd buy me something and so he did. Didn't even ask why I wanted it (as a lifetime book-keeper/accountant, I think he just understood). I finally had one! On the walk back home, I kept rolling out different dates. And Dad gave me one of his ink pads with not so strict instructions to "Only stamp paper." It was blue but good enough.

    I stamped everything. My journal. My papers. My notes to friends. My cardboard jewelry boxes, LOL. Good times. But all good things come to an end, right? I had it in my backpack, eighth grade year, and my bag was stolen and with it my beloved stamper. I was furious. I got home that day and my dad found out and he felt for me, said he'd buy me a new one but I don't know, I just didn't feel it, too disparaged with the world, I guess, LOL.

    My kids absolutely love to scan out their own books. We're in the future, 2010, after all, right? They're the laser generation, LOL. At least the lazer is still red...

    Oh, and I love me some flirting in the library. Cuz, you've got to stay quiet, right? And really, the best way to do that is if you lean in really, really close...

  11. More on the NSB library. I went by yesterday and there was not one parking place available. After driving around for a while, I parked next door at the ABC liquor store. On my way inside,(the library, not the liquor store) I asked two loitering rednecks what was going on inside and they laughed saying that people were having their taxes filed for free inside. When I entered, there must have been 2,000 little old people, each with a blue file folder, standing in line. I went back to the liquor store. :)

  12. I love the library. The American library in Karlsruhe still has a card cataloge. It's great!