The day my mother took me to the Carl Elliott Regional Library to get my first library card I didn’t realize what awaited me with just the clink of the machine that would date those books and check them out to me.
My handwriting was scribbled as I stood on my tip-toes and tried my best to sign my card. I could barely reach the counter and the lady at the desk gave me a strict instruction to return my library books in two weeks. It was the summer before I started first grade. I was six that summer and like all summers my mother made sure that my time was spent taking part in the library’s annual summer reading program. Sometimes it would just be the two of us that would attend one of the programs. Other times it would be me and all of my friends, my mother hauling us all to the programs. Regardless she left me alone in the children’s activity room while she sat in the stacks and pulled picture books for us to read before bed.
You could say that my life as a librarian, even though the thought of becoming one never crossed my mind until I was much older, started among the stacks of the Carl Elliot Regional Library. The yellow carpet is emblazed in my mind and the smell of those old books – you know, the library smelling books – is forever etched in my memory. When I was in pre-school my class was in charge of making an elephant out of paper mache. I was thrilled to learn it was in the children’s department of the library and made a point every time I came in to see it on display.
I remember when I was old enough peruse the library stacks on my own. I ventured into the teen department and checked out a book about a young boy who befriends a homeless cat in his neighborhood. Then when I was much older I learned how to look up books in the card catalog – you know, the old fashion one with the drawers and the slips of paper that told me everything I needed to know about the location of a particular book. Life inside the public library was magic, the librarian the keeper of the magic and myself the young heroin venturing into the stacks to discover new places.
This past week libraries all across the nation have celebrated National Library Week, a time to recognize the importance of public libraries in communities as well as the hard workers that make all of the things at a public library possible. Because I assure you, as a library director, its not just the director that makes sure things are taken care of at the library. It takes an entire set of dedicated staff members, volunteers and community supporters to keep the public library up and running.
When is the last time you visited your public library? Perhaps it was to check out a book. Maybe you needed to use the wireless internet or use a computer. Or maybe you attended a really cool program that was out of this world that led you onto a pathway of searching the stacks for something to further your interests. At The Scottsboro Public Library, where I am fortunate to be director, one of my co-workers held a spring bunny door hanger painting event for adults that was widely attended. Last week we had a gaming afternoon so people could enjoy playing with board games. And on Thursday a group of my afterschool students stopped by for their weekly library visit, giving me the opportunity to pour positivity into their lives.
The same summer I received my library card my mother checked out the book “Poor Merlo” by Mary O’Neill. It’s the story of a blackbird that forgets everything – his eyes, his beak, his tail, his ability to swallow. For over two weeks the poor bird keeps having a tough run of luck until one day things look up for him. I remember reading that book over and over for the next two weeks, laughing until I was crying at the consistency of Merlo’s inability to remember things he needed. That summer we didn’t just turn that book back in – we checked it out over and over and over.
Perhaps one day my library journey will bring me home to Jasper, to the place where my love of reading first became a reality nestled in the back of the library on yellow carpet pulling picture books off the shelves and placing them in my mother’s lap.
Libraries are essential keys to any community. Take a day to stop by your public library and you will realize just how blessed you are to have a place that offers so much in terms of learning, exploring, and increasing knowledge, all at your fingertips and all free for everyone.
Laura Pitts is a former Daily Mountain Eagle reporter. She is now director of the Scottsboro Public Library.