Our Favorite Libraries
Today is National Library Workers Day, in the midst of National Library Week, and Alternating Current staffers share their favorite libraries, librarians, and library memories. If you haven’t visited a library lately, today is a good day to go.
I don’t typically do libraries. Borrowing books is just not my thing. There’s the pressure of reading them under a deadline, the headache of leaving the house to return them, and the occasional unexpected ‘surprises’ that other borrowers may leave within their pages (crumbs, food smudges, and goodness knows what else!). Besides, I much prefer owning the books I read. That’s why I’ve fallen in love with The Bethlehem Area Public Library, located in old historical Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Every other month, on a Wednesday, you’ll find me downstairs in the library’s basement. That’s where they hold their bimonthly book sale. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked out from those stacks with a totebag overflowing with awesome reads. Most trade paperbacks and hardcovers with their original dust jackets for only a dollar. Classics in pristine condition for less than a buck. I might not know what the interior of the main library looks like, but I know their basement stacks like the back of my hand. And when you’re book-saled out, you can take a nice relaxing stroll through their beautiful Serenity Garden.
I recall my love affair with libraries beginning when I was in third grade at Jefferson Elementary in Wichita Falls, Texas. I don’t think I discovered Judy Blume in that library (I’m pretty sure I discovered Judy Blume at Walden Books in the Sikes Center Mall.), but I do recall checking out a book on the Libra zodiac sign. My little sister is a Libra. My maternal grandmother (also a Libra) had zodiac sign plates hanging in the hallway of her home. Libra, Sagittarius, Gemini, and Aquarius. So I was always curious about astrology. Then, when I got my driver’s license at sixteen in Midland, Texas, I started skipping school to drive downtown to the public library. Most teenagers skip school to have sex or to get wasted or to go to concerts. I skipped school to hang out in the public library. God, I loved it. I read Stephen King’s Carrie in that library. Carrie White made me feel a bit better about my life as a loner teenager forced to attend a Baptist church three times a week.
But my favorite thing of all about that library was the archive of Seventeen magazines from the 1960s and 1970s. I would pore over those magazines, ogle the models dressed in fashion that, to me, was much more exciting than Guess? Jeans, Coca-Cola shirts, and Swatches. I was also obsessed with The Beatles when I was sixteen, so it all tied together somehow. I was a weirdo loner who had a crush on Ringo Starr and skipped school to hang out in a veritable time warp. I also stumbled across an obscure compilation Duke Ellington jazz album in that library. I have Googled to no avail to find the female artist who sang my favorite song on that album. “He’s the whiz! The greatest there is!” (Robert Crumb, if you’re reading this, please email me. Robert Crumb is the only person I can think of who would know what the hell I’m talking about.)
I could always return to the library. The downtown San Antonio Library is the most exciting library I’ve visited thus far. They call it The Enchilada because it’s red. It’s also enormous. I love to go to the basement and buy used books for dirt cheap prices. I also met Sandra Cisneros at The Enchilada. My boyfriend at the time bullied me into approaching her and giving her a copy of my novel, Bullshit Rodeo. “Why didn’t you talk to her? I can’t believe you were too shy to talk to her,” he berated me after I gave Sandra the book and asked her to autograph my copy of Loose Woman. I couldn’t make him understand. Writers are gods. And libraries are my church.
— Misti Rainwater-Lites
I spent a good chunk of my life in the rundown slums of slightly-left-of-downtown Detroit, that section of town that they keep talking about paving under to make some parks. There wasn’t much beauty to be had in that area at the time, but I would take myself down to the one strip of salvation that Detroit had to offer: the Detroit Public Library. It has some of the best (and most oddball) historical and rare book collections, and its rotating exhibits are always top-notch. I learned most of what I know about Michigan history (without the myths) from their extensive Michigan collections, and their old maps and Detroit photographs are stunning. I haven’t lived in Detroit for a good long time, so I don’t know what it still looks like, but when I was younger, the old Michigan photos lined the walls, their sad and remarkable black-and-white stories peering back at me, begging for me to discover them. I have never felt more connected to my state, my hometown, my Midwestern roots, my history, as I did at the Detroit Library.
Post originally published on 4/14/15