I am in love with the Seattle Public Library. I can go to their website, search for the books I want, place a hold, and indicate the neighborhood branch where I want to pick the book up. When the book arrives, I receive an e-mail and walk across the street to the branch. I find the book, shelved according to the first three letters of my last name. Then I scan in my barcode and the sensors on the counter read what books I'm checking out. I print out a reminder slip and leave.
I don't have to talk to a soul.
It's genius. But I have to confess I miss the Mrs. Ribeckis and Ms. Kadings of the world. Mrs. Ribecki was the librarian at the one-room Sodus Township Library. She was a kindly old woman in a floral housedress who checked out my picture books ten at a time (I think that was the limit). During the summer reading program at the library, my competitive spirit merged with my zeal for books and turned me into a reading machine. I'd beg my mom to drive me to the library every few days so I could give verbal reports to Mrs. Ribecki and get more stickers added to my contest sheet, each year a different theme. One year, it was a dinosaur and the stickers slowly filled in its green form. The first kids to complete the sheets got special prizes and I'll be damned if Julie Hartman was going to beat me.
I eventually exhausted the offerings at the Sodus library, so I ordered books from Troll and Scholastic book clubs and hit the school library. In high school, I'd be damned if I was going to work at a part-time job where I had to wear a hat and take orders for Whoppers or french fries, so I got a job in the children's department of the Benton Harbor Public Library, working with Ms. Kading and her assistant Rose. I sorted and shelved and sent out overdue notices. I laminated all my Monet and Matisse posters on my lunch break. I ran the projector and showed old movies and cartoons on Saturdays. And I quizzed kids about the books they read, helping them add stickers to their own sheets during the summer reading program. Sometimes I was suspicious so I read the book with them, assisting them with the tough words.
We had some regulars, good-hearted kids about to go wrong because their absent parents used the library as all-daycare. Maybe one book, one librarian helped a couple of those kids to believe in themselves and their ability to cover an entire sheet with stickers until they saw the big picture.
Mrs. Ribecki certainly helped me and set me on a lifelong love affair with books, both as a reader and now a writer. And when I scan my barcode in at my tiny branch here in Seattle (which is no bigger than that Sodus library), I have to confess I miss the kindly lady in the housedress.
What about you? Do you have fond memories of your library or librarian? Did you rock the summer reading contests?