My visits to the local library nowadays are brief. Sometimes I spend a quarter of an hour if I know exactly what I want; othertimes, I'll remain a full half hour. There were years when I was younger that I'd spend an entire afternoon sequestered between aisles of thousands of stories waiting for me to explore.
My first introduction to the city library occurred when I was 12 years old. My teacher, noting my interest in reading, suggested that I try the downtown library where I could find more book choices. The following Saturday morning I walked three blocks from our duplex and boarded a bus for a 15 minute ride into the heart of the city. Finding the library presented only one hitch. I didn't know what kind of building to expect. With written directions in hand I found myself before a set of wide, curving steps facing the corner of the block across from the New Capitol. I remember how stately the building was.
When I entered through the sturdy wood door, I was struck by all the rows of books on shelves higher than my house (or so it seemed to me). The ceiling above the librarian's desk had a deep indention, which today I'd recognize as a rotunda. And the smell--a rendolence of ink, crisp paper, aged bindings mixed with the heat of the sunshine streaming through the open windows only added to the mystery of the place. I remained for several hours, wandering the aisles, tracing my finger across every book, pulling out some to caress and reading authors' names. There were no book covers then, and most bindings were in colors of brown, black, red, and blue. Large fans murmuring a coolness in the summers and radiators clanking heat in the winters were the only noises made in the silence of this wonderland.
I enrolled and received my card with a warning not to lose it or face a charge. I treated that card as precious as the books I checked out. "You can have two books for one week." the librarian said. That was a happy announcement, proclaiming my new routine of weekly visitation. Being an absorbed reader, I could have easily read the two choices I'd selected while on the return bus home; instead, I examined the covers, the printing, the illustrations. I pronounced the authors' names. Sometime in the afternoon I'd find a special place to read these particular stories. The life of Sagajawea and her involvement with the Lewis and Clark expedition was one of the two books.
Through the years I've maintained my library card and followed the city library to its various new homes. When I moved to a nearby town as an adult, I helped found a Friends of the Library and a fledgling small-town collection grew over the 25+ years of my membership. My love affair with the library has deepened, begun that day when I opened the door of that stately building in Jackson, Mississippi.
Searching through Jackson, A Special Place by Carroll Brinson published in 1977 I found a photo of that beloved building that became a part of my life. Doesn't look like the libraries of today, does it?