where wildly different is perfectly normal
My home away from home
My home away from home

My home away from home

I love books. I love to read. Always have, and though it’s more difficult for me to squeeze time in to read now, always will. One of my favorite pictures of me as a kid is one where I’m passed out on my bed, surrounded by books.

Jenni and her books

Strangely enough, J looks just like this when he sleeps, down to the arms above his head and books piled all around him. He adds his entire Hot Wheels collection to the books, though.

I was fortunate to have parents who passed along their love of reading to me, and even more fortunate to have access to a fantastic library.

The library…sigh…my library.

I practically lived at the library. When we first moved to town, we lived in an apartment across street from the library and we went there often. Even when we lived further away I was there all the time. I would check out piles of books so high you could barely see my head over the stack as I proudly carried them home. I always earned a Gold Medal in our school’s Reading Olympics. It was the first place my parents allowed me to ride to on my bike.

But that library…

I remember the smell of new books and old paper as I walked in. I remember searching through the card catalog to find what I needed…no computers or search terms here. You had to know how to search. Oh, how I would love to have a card catalog cabinet here at home. I have no clue what I’d do with it, but I’d love to have one.

The entire second floor of the library was the children’s section. An entire floor dedicated to books for kids…for me. I remember just picking an aisle and strolling down it, picking out books that caught my eye, until I had a stack so heavy I could barely carry it; I found so many treasures that way. I remember looking at picture books for little kids…the ones with just pictures…and wondering why the author even bothered. Where were the words? I remember the squishy red and green square cushions for sitting on during story time with the librarian…and how they were used for building creations when the librarian wasn’t looking. They were square simply courtesy of the fabric; they had lost all butt support long ago.

In middle school I went to the library every Monday night. My mom would pick up my friends about 7 or so and we would study or read old comics on the microfiche readers (good grief, do those things even exist anymore?) or find new books to read. At 9, when the library closed, we walked over to my friend’s parents’ Chinese restaurant and ate egg rolls and pork noodle soup until they closed the restaurant and drove us home.

The library was someplace I went for fun, for recreation, for books, for a feeling of “wow!” and I’ve never really found a place similar. I know it’s impossible for things to live up to childhood memories. I was absent from libraries for a long time because of college and working and grad school. Libraries became a place of study, of research, of long hours in pain, not of discovery and joy. When I had kids, I took them to the libraries nearby but it wasn’t the same. There wasn’t the feeling of belonging I knew as a child.

Then our little community christened its first public library in January. I took J the first week it was open, for something to do and to get a card. And…

When I walked in the door for the very first time that day in January, I was home. It may have been a brand new building, but somehow there was that welcoming scent of new books and old paper. Instead of card catalogs, computers lined the walls. Instead of squishy square cushions, child sized chairs were there for kids to sit and read (I guess the librarians figured out what was going on with the cushions when they weren’t looking). And instead of a second floor dedicated to the kids, the entire library was built around the children’s section.

I felt welcomed. I was home. I thought I couldn’t go home again, but here, in this library a thousand miles from the one I grew up in, I was home again. I’ve been to that library weekly since that day, almost always with a son in tow. I may not get books, but I go for that feeling of possibility, of “wow!” The boys beg to go, just as I did to my parents. And I am more than happy to take them. Because it’s my little piece of home.


This was submitted to Scribbit’s Write-Away contest for April.


  1. Lovely, this.

    Libraries and bookstores have always been places of refuge to me, sanctuary from the storm. All worldly concerns and woes seem to fall away when I’m in the midst of books. The office I write in every day is stacked floor to ceiling with volumes. It’s insulation against the outside world, inspiration for my hungry mind.

    Good post…

  2. Ha to Tootsie’s comment! 🙂

    I’m liking the library again a lot more now that my kids aren’t going in every direction and they know how to whisper.

    I lived at the library when I was a kid too. It was close enough for me to walk to. Hard to walk home though with my arms full of books!

  3. I loved going to the library so as a child, I too would come home with a stack of books nearly as tall as I was.

    I really REALLY hate that my local library here in Israel (which I have to PAY to join!) only lets me take out 3 measly books at a time – for the kids and I combined!

  4. RC

    I was so proud of myself for knowing the dewey decimal system.

    And like you, I used to read all of the time. My sisters and I all got in trouble at school. Not for talking (except occasionally), not for passing notes (we were all masters at that, apparently), but because we all got caught reading other books under our desks. I remember sneaking books into church, school, the bathroom, anywhere…

  5. Beautifully written! 🙂

    I too had “volunteer hours” at the library during the summers when I was in junior high. I loved it! I read all the time as a kid, growing up, and I try to sneak in as much as I can now too! 🙂 (It helps that I teach reading classes to 8th graders!)

  6. I said this on another blog today and I’ll say it again here:

    What’s a book?

    To clarify: If it doesn’t have pictures or Thomas I don’t know what it is. How sad is that?

    Is it really 77 there right now? Holy cow! That’s 10 degrees warmer than it is here! Luck you!

  7. Poetikat

    The library has always been my favourite place to be too. As a kid, I had a public school behind my house and every Wednesday the Bookmobile would come and park after there after school for a few hours. I too, went every week and came home with stacks I could hardly carry. I scanned every single shelf in the bookmobile every week. My best friend was in and out in a few minutes and very often gave up and left me in my fantasy book-world.
    Every place we’ve lived (and even some we just visit for a day) we always find ourselves in the local library. I guess it’s just the possibility that lies behind those old doors. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

    This also explains why you are such an adept and captivating writer.

    You are a kindred spirit!


  8. Sounds like you can’t back out of book club with this post!

    I worked at the library in college and I LOVED it. We had computers, but not for searching catalog items, just for checking out books. And, it was stinky, in that room full of books kinda way.

  9. Holy cow!! Were we seperated at birth?! I swear to you, I could have written every word of this essay (although probably not as eloquently!). I still adore the library, of course, but now that my son is 14, we don’t get to the children’s section very often. Sadly, the library at the school where I work is just a disgrace. I won’t use this blog to vent about it, but it’s really bad.

    Thanks for that little trip down memory lane…

  10. As the child of a very transient family, the only consistency I had in my life as a child were the public libraries in each new town we moved to. Your excellent post reminded me of these places that offered me solace and comfort when being faced with a strange and often unfriendly new location to settle into. I would spend whole days sitting in libraries reading book after book. Often never checking them out as I knew they would be here later for me to come back to. The reading was just part of it. It was the quiet space that offered me a place to avoid the unfriendly world I often felt was outside. Loved libraries.

    My favorite one was the FSU college librarie as a 6th grader. Once they figured out I was a serious reader they let me stay and take down and read any book I wanted to. No censorship. My eyes were opened very wide that summer.

  11. I have always been a library rat, too. I can relate to your description of the smell and I remember with complete clarity the moment I was handed my first official library card-the kind with the metal plate that had your library number indented on it. Ah, memories.

  12. Pingback: Summer plans « Never A Dull Moment

  13. LOVE that you talk of a non-house as being home…What a great shout out for the public library…people just don’t use them enough anymore. (including me when I blog too much and don’t read) Great story…I enjoyed it.

  14. I loved the college libraries I’ve been lucky enough to frequent. Taking a break from studying “my” subject, i’d browse the aisles of unfamiliar topics, seeing what interesting ideas I’d come across. I love these places, but the magic of a library to a child is special indeed! Thanks for this piece. I really enjoyed it.

  15. ShackelMom

    There is no frigate like a book
    To take us lands away,
    Nor any coursers like a page of prancing poetry.

    This traverse may the poorest take
    Without oppress of toll;
    How frugal is the chariot
    That bears the human soul!

    Great post! Libraries and used books stores… I lose track of time in them… and they smell so nice.

  16. HRH

    That gave me goosebumps. What an amazing read. I have those fond memories too. It was the one place I could choose what and how many…freeeeedom. The boys and I are blessed with a great library nearby and several good bookstores which are my 4 y/os favorite trips to request. Yeah for him (and me).

  17. I feel at home in this image, too! One of the beauties of my job as an elementary teacher is that I “have to” read new literature. Darn. 🙂 The school librarian and I hit it off from the first moment of day one, when I offered her a toy wand for her Harry Potter showcase. We knew we were kindred spirits.

  18. this is great. i too can still remember the smell of my childhood library. thanks for bringing it back for me.

    congrats on your win — wonderful.

    p.s. have you read the kids’ book “the boy who was raised by librarians”? it’s a hoot, especially for us library-lovers…

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