Growing up, my Dad, my sister, and I visited the Sanger library in west Toledo every week. In all my memories, the library is sunny and bright, and I was eager to discover what wonderful stories might be waiting for me. When the pickings were slim, I was actively disappointed, but checked out whatever books I could find. Being without books to read was worse than reading so-so books. To this day, I have stacks of books by my bed and downloaded onto my iPad. If I’m traveling, I need at least three books available to feed my reading addiction and keep my no-book anxieties at bay.
The three of us loved to read and each of us checked out four books (the maximum allowed). In second and third grade, I read through a shelf of orange-bound biographies and met Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver, Florence Nightingale, Lucretia Mott, and others. I also LOVED Nancy Drew mysteries and tore through them. Later, I learned that Toledoan Mildred Benson (whose pen name was Carolyn Keene), wrote many of the stories in that series.
By the time I was in fourth grade, I had read all of the children’s chapter books, so Dad arranged with the librarian to let me read whatever I wanted in the adult section. Today, when book banning is rampant in schools, this seems like a surprising decision, but Dad wasn’t worried about what I might find. He once told me that he attempted to read all of the library’s books (he got from the A’s through the G’s), so he understood my need to read. In fourth grade, Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca was one of my favorites, and I went on to read all of the DuMaurier books at the library.
At home, our bookshelves may have seemed oddly empty. Although Dad loved reading, he didn’t need to own the books, and so my sister and I learned we didn’t either. As a practical matter, we couldn’t possibly find space for all the books we read. Dad’s philosophy is still ingrained in me. Over the years, I’ve borrowed most of what I wanted to read from the public library, and I’ve bought books as a special treat or if the library didn’t carry what I wanted. I still feel that way, but now I buy books I love in order to support living authors. However, typically I buy them after I’ve read the library’s copy. Weird, I know, but I can’t own everything I’ve read or plan to read.
Today, my relationship with the library is different. I don’t visit in person as often as I used to. Instead, I download ebooks from the library, because I love reading on my iPad (so many books in one lightweight place!). But I am as firmly committed to public libraries as ever. For me, they represent a world of stories and knowledge: garden books about shade plants, novels about China during the Mao’s Cultural Revolution, financial reports of companies I want to invest in, travel guides about small Irish towns. For other people, they’re a source for free computer and Internet access for research papers, Facebook, and job searches.
Today, the Dakota County Library in Minnesota is my home library. While their funding is secure for this year, the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library is facing a 50 percent budget cut if the local levy doesn’t pass this fall. I hope my Toledo friends and family will vote for the levy renewal, so this wonderful resource doesn’t become a memory!