My earliest memory of my father is the first day he took me to the Woburn Public Library. The trip was special in many ways, and still affects me today.
One feature making this trip special was the fact it was just my father and me. As one of 10 kids, I didn’t get much “alone time” with either parent, especially my father. He usually had left for work before I woke up, and sometimes worked a second job. Our family ate dinner at a large table, with several conversations overlapping. There wasn’t much time for one-to-one talks.
But my parents wanted that trip to the library to be special. I was told the week prior that I had to behave before my father would take me. And I better be on my best behavior when we went to the library. My father’s tone of voice was similar to the one he used before we went to church on Sundays, so I knew this was serious.
I already knew that the library was important. There were always library books around the house. Some were books my mother read to us, and others were just for her and my dad. It seemed like there was no end to these books. Every week, my father would take an armful out to the car, and an hour later, he would come back from the library with more. I was finally going to see where these books came from.
The library didn’t disappoint. It was the oldest and largest building I’d ever seen. It was even bigger than our church. And that was just the outside.
We walked through the front door, and I was awestruck. There were books everywhere! On one side of the library was a giant chamber with aisles and aisles of books. Above these books was a balcony with even more books. It was amazing.
My father must have seen the look in my eyes. He grinned and said this was the “Adult Library” and I was going to the “Children’s Library”. He turned me towards a smaller room off to one side. Although there were much fewer books, they were on shelves low enough for me to reach.
Before we entered the Children’s Library, we stopped at an enormous wooden desk. It was clear even to my young mind that the women behind this desk were important. You had to be important to have a desk that big.
When we walked up, one of the women smiled at us and said, “Hi, Mr. Fallon. Who’s this with you?”
I was flabbergasted! She knew my father. After my father introduced me, he told her it was my first visit to the library. She called over to her coworkers, and soon I was surrounded by librarians. And they all knew my father!
Like most children, I looked up to my father. But this was different. I was getting all this attention solely because of my father. He knew all the women who were in charge of the library with all these books. My father must be someone very important too.
Then, I was given my very own library card. It may have been a small piece of brown cardboard with an even smaller metal plate affixed to it, but it was so much more. The library card had my name on it, and gave me the right to borrow three books at a time.
One of the librarians showed me around the children’s library, and explained how the books were arranged. I recognized many of the books because they had been in my house. There were books with lots of pictures, and still more filled with words I had never seen before. How was I going to choose only three books?
The librarian reminded me that after I read the first three books, I could come back for more. (I’m sure it was at this moment that I decided I love librarians.) I finally selected my three books, and she walked me back to the circulation desk.
At the desk, my father was waiting with his own stack of books. I was so focused on the library that I hadn’t even noticed my father had gone to the Adult Library. We checked out our treasures, and headed home.
When we got home, I proudly showed the books to my mother. She “oohed” and “aahed” like she had never seen a book before. Then my mother reminded me that I had to take extra care of these books, because I had to return them. I promised I would.
That summer, I was at the library a lot. My parents took turns bringing me and helping me choose new books. They encouraged me to try different books, and were patient with my indecisiveness. Sometimes, they would let me bring my best friend along, which would add even more time to each visit. I was never rushed, and loved being in the quiet library as long as possible.
I still love going to the library. While I have a nice, quiet office, it doesn’t have the same atmosphere as the library. If I’m doing research, the librarians are always willing to help. While “Google” may be a great search engine, the internet is full of suspect information. Librarians know the legitimacy of the sources they recommend.
Some of the major bookstores hold reading hours for children. Many stores even have coffee stands and cafes. Some have excellent employees with a good knowledge of books and authors. But these stores aren’t the same as libraries.
First, you have to buy the books, not borrow them. My parents could never have afforded to buy all the books I read growing up. And while I love coffee, I prefer the cleanliness of the library. And librarians are certified professionals.
My mother once told me that I was lucky, because I loved to read. My real luck was having parents who shared that love of reading and who introduced me to the wonder of books. And one day, they took me to the public library.
P.S. – April 7 – 13, 2019 is National Library Week. For ideas on how to support your local library visit the American Library Association website.