The other day I was reflecting on some of my most valuable possessions. My library card was pretty high on my list.
My library card is not much to look at. It’s a thin reddish-orange, plastic-coated card—the same size as my credit card. On the front of the card are listed the phone numbers of all the branch libraries in Geauga County. On the back is a kind of oath under which I signed my name many years ago. It says, “I accept responsibility for all use of this card, including any fines or fees.” Amen to that!
My library card is very valuable to me because books are very valuable to me. When I was growing up on our farm, we didn’t have many books. The few we had, though, I read over and over again. I remember reading a thick book of illustrated fairy tales. The wolf in “The Three Little Pigs” and the troll in “Billy Goat Gruff” scared me to death. We had a book with Bible stories in it too. I remember mostly the frightening stories and pictures: Noah’s ark and the great flood plus Abraham with the knife in his upraised hand ready to slay little Isaac. Thank God the angel stopped him just in time. Other images from these books brought me comfort and joy: the Princess dancing with her Prince, Jesus carrying the lost lamb on his shoulders.
The first library I ever saw was at James A. Garfield Elementary School. It was very, very small, yet I remember gleefully checking out books on a regular basis. The fact that you could borrow a book FOR FREE and even TAKE IT HOME almost blew me away. I wondered: Whoever came up with such a great idea?
I spent many happy hours in the library at Regina High School too. And I found the old library at Notre Dame College particularly fascinating. I loved the semi-darkness, the slightly musty smell, the ancient dark tables, the two elderly nuns who worked there in silence all day, and all the nooks and cubby holes where I could hide out and read and read and read, losing all sense of the passage of time.
I love my library card because of what it opens for me: “the temple of learning”—as the journalist Carl Rowan called it. Every time we open a book, we set ourselves within that sacred temple. And our learning never stops. In fact I hope I die with a book on the nightstand next to my bed! The writer Anne Lamott said that in a library you can find “miracles and truth.” I have found both in the libraries I have used. I’ve found the miracle of human existence, the marvels of the natural world, the mystery of goodness and evil, the miracle of faith, the truth of incredible people, and the marvel of love.
Of course, these days the internet brings the library right into our homes. I, for example, do much of my research on line. But I still regularly visit my local library carrying a list of books I’d like to read before I depart this earthly life. As the old proverb says, “So many books, so little time…” As I get older, though, I always recall what Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine writer, said: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Amen to that too! In fact, his words remind me: I must tell a friend to be sure I’m buried with my library card in my pocket!
Do you like libraries?
What are some of your most valuable possessions?