Saturday, April 16, 2016

Life as a Card-Carrying Library User

I wasn’t aware, when I wrote days ago about Con Lehane’s soon-forthcoming novel, Murder at the 42nd Street Library, that April 10-16 was National Library Week here in the United States, an annual celebration sponsored by the American Library Association. Furthermore, today is National Librarian Day!

But since these observances are firmly upon us, let me just give an appreciative shout out to the public library that I have known best and for the longest period of time: the Multnomah County Central Library in Portland, Oregon. Designed by A.E. (Albert Ernest) Doyle and opened in 1913, that grand Georgian-style edifice of brick, limestone, and marble—three stories tall and occupying a full downtown block bounded by Southwest 10th and 11th avenues and Yamhill and Taylor streets—was a regular destination for my brother and me when we were young. Our mother didn’t start driving until I was in college, so when we were children she’d walk us the four miles (mostly downhill) from our home in Portland’s West Hills to that library to check out, return, and otherwise enjoy books in the Children’s Reading Room. Then we would hike those four miles back uphill, our arms loaded with as many volumes as we could carry. Only later did a bookmobile route reach our neighborhood, making such trudges less necessary.

When I was old enough to move into an apartment downtown, it cut my travel time to the library considerably. It also made it possible for me to visit there more frequently, for professional as well as recreational reasons. I could often be spotted flipping through the old card catalogues on the second floor, in search of books or magazine and newspaper resources that were essential to my journalism work. Other times I settled myself comfortably into one of the overstuffed chairs in what I recall was the high-ceilinged first-floor Fiction Room, reading works by Alistair MacLean, Ross Macdonald, or Robert B. Parker. It was also there that I (a notably young reader among much older ones) first consumed—over more than a few sittings—Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (described so wonderfully by one source as “essentially Sherlock Holmes in a monastery—with a sex-scene”).

Although I don’t live in Portland any longer, I still drop by the Central Library there on occasion, when I happen to be in town, to remind myself of the good times I spent in those hallowed, book-filled chambers. The library went through a major renovation in the mid-1990s, so it now has computers everywhere, and the floors and woodwork have been spruced up, and room arrangements have been modified enough that I find myself having to ask sometimes where things are now located. But nothing important has really changed. That place still holds a vital spot in my evolution as a writer. As much as I grew up anywhere, it was among the library’s millions of books.

READ MORE:Where in the World Are You Reading? My Local Library (Part 2),” by SuziQOregon (Whimpulsive); “Remembrance of Libraries Past,” by Julia Buckley (Mysterious Musings).

1 comment:

Gram said...

The library is always the best place in town!!!