A love letter to my local library
Come winter, I want to live in the library.
Imagine how cozy that would be! Spending a cold winter’s night exploring the tropics in the travel section. Losing myself on a cloudy day in a fog of mysteries. Getting swept up in someone else’s romance – all the joy, none of the hassles. Or, fantasizing about all those flowers I’ll plant next summer.
Cape Cod has become so year-round that I rarely get asked anymore what we do all winter, as if we were all flummoxed once the local clam shack closed in October. And oddly, when I am asked, I tend to stammer or act defensive – hey, we’ve got stuff to do. But if I thought about it, the library would be one of the top things on the list of what I actually do.
Seriously, come winter, it keeps me sane.
To me, the local libraries – the Cape and islands have about 40 – are part of the invisible community underpinnings that include churches and senior centers. Like the bones in a corset, these community gathering points lift us up and hold us together, especially in the winter months when we could all turn to mush. It’s not the Cape life that summer people and tourists imagine, but it’s oh-so-important.
When the pandemic was declared in March 2020 – on my birthday, by the way – I went into a near panic over not being able to access the library. Of course, I always have a score of books around my house waiting to be read. But the loss wasn’t so much about the books. It was about the connection.
It was about having another place to work on a day when I couldn’t stand my own company. It was about being greeted by name and chatting over the counter for a few minutes with whomever was working the desk. It was about trading book ideas or writing tips with another reader. It was about checking out the bulletin board to see if there was some great community program coming up.
Bless the local libraries for figuring out solutions pretty early on – at least I could order books and go and pick them up. But it wasn’t like wandering through the stacks and stumbling on a total surprise or, most important, seeing other people.
I loved the library as a kid. I could take the city bus or ride my bike there. I could go by myself and no one would think it weird or that I had few friends. The children’s room was huge but I could still show you the exact shelf that held the Mary Poppins and Dr. Doolittle books. And no one cared if I meandered through the adult section. Or did my homework in the reference area. Libraries, of course, have changed since then and are no longer hush-hush temples of quiet. There’s often something going on in my current library – a story hour or a cookbook club or a community meeting or even an event with adult beverages. You can borrow a movie or puzzle, of course, but you can also take home a crafting kit or seeds for the garden or spices or toys. Some libraries even loan out tools, like electric leaf blowers. And it’s still OK if you hide out in a corner or sit in front of the fire and just, well, read that magazine that you don’t want to bother subscribing to or take a book for a test run. It’s a total no-judgment zone. Hey, they don’t even make you pay fines anymore.
In the old days, some librarians did actually live at the library. I remember Sally White from Yarmouth Port telling me about her experiences growing up as the daughter of the Yarmouth Port librarian. They lived in an apartment at the back of the building. Sally told me that after hours, she was allowed to creep down into the children’s room, pick any book, curl up on the big window seat and read to her heart's content.
Ahhh, my perfect way to spend the winter.