Here, in no particular order, are the five libraries that have meant the most to me:
- The Mayfield Library at Nashville State Community College. This is where I work. I respect the staff who always put students first. I like our students who are smart, funny, and questioning. I love that students feel comfortable asking us questions or just stopping by to chat. I firmly believe we do good work here.
- The Bellevue Branch of the Metro Nashville Public Library. This building is smaller than most people’s houses, but it’s my neighborhood library. I’ve spent many a Saturday browsing the shelves, finding new interests to develop. It’s a small but homely, and if its collection isn’t huge, books can be delivered from other branches in a couple of days.
- The Indiana University of Pennsylvania Library. Although I probably shouldn’t admit this, this is the library where I did true research for the first time. At least in my case, it’s true that the best way to learn something is to teach it. After teaching research skills to freshmen, I learned that my past researching techniques left something to be desired. At IUP, I learned to be a better researcher. Also, I was hundreds of miles away from home, and the library served as a lifeline for me. It gave me a place to go where I could be around people, and it was the odd time that I didn’t see another English graduate student in the periodicals basement.
- Owens Cross Roads Junior High School Library. I once decided to read every book in this little library. My failure brought home a cold truth: I was never going to be able to know all the things in the world worth knowing. Still, I decided it was a decent, if doomed, goal to have.
- The Madison County Bookmobile: Most of the small towns in our county did not have public libraries. Therefore, each week the bookmobile came to town. I was one of its most loyal patrons. I don’t remember much about it except the smell, which was probably a combination of gasoline, books, and stale air from the days it wasn’t in use. My most vivid memory, ironically, was from the week I didn’t get to go. I had the mumps, so my mother sent my father to pick up some books. Somehow, he missed the children’s section altogether and picked out a massive biography of Helen Keller. I remember heroically struggling through the pages as I lay on the sofa. It never occurred to me not to read it.
Libraries are such a central part of my personal history that I’m always surprised to meet people for whom they have little meaning. I don’t judge them; it’s just as if they came from another planet and are speaking a language that I can’t recognize.