Libraries are fabulous places for so many reasons—there are books that educate us, take us on journeys, and spark our imaginations; resources that give us access to the wider world; staff ready to answer our questions and find what we need; and other patrons to interact with. Something else we can find in a library is friendship. Literally, in the form of meeting other people and building a relationship with them. Or figuratively, by the friends we make in the books we borrow.
As a young girl, libraries were so important to me. Because that was where I could get any book and read any story that I wanted. I still remember the route from the front door of our town library to the shelves that housed the books I devoured.
There was Judy Blume*—Forever, Deenie, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? I read anything she wrote that I could get my hands on. I learned about how other girls dealt with some of the very same issues I had questions about. Even though we never met, Judy understood me. And I trusted her as a friend.
At some point I started looking for books in the adult section, where I felt so grown up to be able to wander and find books that appealed. There was one author whose mystery books were a favorite, though I’m not sure I recall his name. Because he was so prolific, anytime I went to the library there was a book of his for me to discover. That made him feel like a friend, just waiting for me to visit so he could tell me a new story.
In high school, a good friend told me to read a book by Dick Francis, because he wrote about horses. Then he, and his richly written characters, became lifelong friends that I visit often. Rereading the stories, remembering each character, feels like going home for the holidays.
It doesn’t happen with every book, or every author, but the people who sit down to write thousands of words in order to tell us stories can become our friends. These friends help us get to sleep, comfort us when we’re feeling down, teach us, entertain us, make us laugh. It can feel like we really know them through the words they put down on paper for us. And it can feel like they really know us, when the stories they write touch us or help us feel understood, sometimes for the first time.
Libraries play a big role in my life in other ways, too. Looking back on my love of libraries as a child, it was not a surprise when I decided to get a degree in library science. It hadn’t been the plan, but I decided it when I read the catalog of the graduate school of library science—it was a page turner, each new class listing was something I was excited to learn.
That degree led to me working in a corporate library, which set my path in the working world. My first job after graduation in a corporate library is where I met one of my dearest friends in the whole world. My next job after that was in a special library, and is where I met another one of my dearest friends. And though I no longer work in a library, my love of libraries led to volunteering for the Boston Public Library, where I have met several new friends as well.
So…when I think of books and libraries, I have the warmest of feelings. These are the things that shaped my life and my friendships. I hope that some of you have warm memories of the books and libraries in your life.
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By: Manya Chylinski
Photo by Alexandr Bormotin on Unsplash