by Joan Waites
I hate to admit it, but until recently I had not been to the library for a very long time. In the days when my three children were younger, like clockwork, we would pull up in the old blue van every three weeks with our canvas bags, ready to empty the shelves of about 40 books, videos, and audiobook tapes. Before the days of internet research, I went even more frequently, gathering reference for my latest project. As a children’s book illustrator, I loved pouring over the large selection of picture books, probably even more than my children did. On a recent rainy day during spring break, it seemed the perfect time to revisit this old friend.
A lifetime ago, in a one room “library” housed in my New York elementary school, I eagerly waited for Wednesdays, when I could check out the next Nancy Drew mystery. My love of reading started there, and in each town or city that I have lived in since, the library has been an important stop. The hushed voices, hum of the air conditioner, moldy smell of the books, and the endless possibilities to lose oneself in a new adventure, mystery or biography was a welcome retreat from the hectic pace of everyday life. It is sad think that so many of our nation's libraries are facing closings, budget cuts, or cuts to their staff. Will the next generation of children get to experience all a library has to offer? Will they read only from electronic devices? Will a real live person guide them expertly to find just the perfect book?
As I stood in line to check out, I remembered fondly the days of putting those stacks and stacks of books on the desk, the clerk eying me suspiciously. The two teenagers I had with me now were many years beyond those young children I juggled while trying to manage our large haul. As the considerably smaller pile was being scanned, I happened to glance over at the display of children’s spring books, featured on a shelf by the desk. Much to my surprise, I noticed a worn and dog-eared copy of a book I illustrated, at least ten years ago. It had obviously been checked out many times, and one of the children’s librarian’s had thought it worthy enough of displaying with the other featured titles. Knowing it was appreciated by the library patrons as well as the librarians themselves made my day.
If you, your children or students haven’t been to the library in a while, take the time to make a trip. It will be well worth it to visit this old friend.