Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Back To Literature, Past
A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Remembers Libraries

I know libraries aren't dead, but sometimes it feels like as if they were.

I live in a canyon near Los Angeles and one of our blessings is a little neighborhood library with picture windows that look over a golf course. I was instrumental in building it in the 1970s and even then the library was only an afterthought. Because the canyon is filled with fast-burning chaparral, our neighborhood needed a fire station closer to help us keep our fire insurance rates down. Someone said, "As long as we're building a fire station, why not attach a library?" It was a struggle, but eventually the city fathers (well, OK. There was one mother!) said OK and funded both.

That was just the beginning of the fight to keep that library. The windows are huge but they keep trying to shutter them. (Yes, think of that as a metaphor.) My guess is that there has been a budget cut every five years or so since then and every time someone started seeing dollar signs, our little library was the first thing the money folks think they can do away with. Of course, they also don't have much respect for the whole system. Hours have been curtailed citywide over the decades. Services, too.

So here are library memories I miss.

I miss the big mobile libraries that stopped on street corners where seniors and kids could get to them easily. There were no limit on how many we could carry home.

I miss librarians that said "Shhhh." Now it seems libraries are often activity centers and that's good, but "Shhsshhing" librarians taught us respect for others' needs.

I miss books that had little pockets in them with cards that slipped in and out. We borrowers could peek to see how many times a book had been checked out, note the different colors of stamp pad inks, notice that cards on some of the classics had yellowed.

I miss books that felt lineny on the outside or had gold-embossed spines turned out. Some even had gilt edging on the pages. And if we look hard we can still find some reference books in some libraries that still have those little half-moons cut out where we can put our index fingers and turn right to the section we need. I mean, it's kind of magic!

I miss that people don't give books for gifts as much as they once did. My children both remember their Great Aunt Hazel who was a librarian. She always sent books for birthdays and Christmas. The Phantom Tollbooth. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The whole Laura Engels Wilder series! And all with plastic covers edged with bindings like grosgrain ribbon (only heavier) that gave the book shelves in their rooms a certain distinction unobtainable by their friends.

Here are some things I love about libraries the way they are right now:

They are good places for people without computers or those whose computers have temporarily deserted them to go to indulge in their online habits.

They are great for picking up a quick video. They're the Neighborhood Netflix.

They are good places to learn something new in books—or not. Many have programs for the blind. My Aunt Hazel loved the one she could walk to safely without using her white cane—which, for some reason, she considered a huge benefit.

They are still places to meet people who love books.

The ones who know how to market to (and get the support of) their own community even support local authors.

They still smell good. A little like printers' ink. Maybe a little moldy. Maybe a little like a Secret Garden. And, you can usually find the titles you loved as a child. Or the ones your children loved. That is, you can if they didn't have to sell them to make ends meet.


Tips and Tidbits

(Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote better. She will also include a Tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)

A Tip for Writers: :

Writers of all patterns and stripes will enjoy the quick tips and questions and answers format of my blog, The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor Guidelines for submitting questions are in the left column of the blog. It is inspired by The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success which won USA Book News Best Book 2007 Award, Reader Views Literary Award and was a finalist in the New Generations Indie Award. It is also available for Kindle,

A Tip for Readers' Tip:

A poetry chapbook that I coauthored with Magdalena Ball was a popular Christmas gift for many. Those who missed someone special on their list and would still like to remember them might find the $6.95 price tag of Blooming Red: Christmas Poems for the Rational just right. It is part of our award-winning Celebration Series of chapbooks.

2012 Past Columns


© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.