Copyright by Paula S. Jordan, 2011
As a companion piece to Darkcargo’s recent discussion of ‘older reading devices’ (i.e.: books) I’d like to offer a thought or two on the places of enchantment and discovery where those ‘older reading devices,’ were to be found, i.e.: ‘older libraries,’ and the Librarians who brought them to life.
My earliest memory of a library was of a single pleasant room attached to the general store in my grandmothers tiny Louisiana town. My brothers and I would climb the steps to the long unpainted porch that served both establishments, say polite hellos to the chorus of old men wearing down the benches outside the store, and pull open the screen door at the end of the porch.
The room was no more than ten feet by twenty, with windows on the front and one side wall, Miss Duckworth’s small desk to the right of the door, and all remaining wall space filled with books. In the center was a table where featured books were displayed, and where members of the summer reading club colored in a segment of a smiling bookworm for each book we read.
Miss Duckworth was a world-expanding experience for me, with her suggestions of such new friends as the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, and the fabulous adventures they enjoyed. When she discovered that I liked science fiction, she made sure that I found all the six or eight volumes with the space ships on their spines. Later still it was biographies, maybe twenty in all. and I read all those as well.
She never had an assistant that I knew of. When she was ‘indisposed’ the door inside the battered screen was locked. Her own pay, if she was paid, was surely very small. What I regard, then, as the gift of her time, was pivotal for me. Though other libraries have followed, with flashier technology and limitless collections of more serious and challenging fare, Miss Duckworth’s was the cornerstone of my reading life.
And I wonder, for all the convenience and variety of e-books dropping magically into our reading devices, isn’t something missing? And I’m thinking of something more than the bulk and heft of words resting physically in your hand. I am thinking of the absence of that other hand that put the book into yours.