National Library Week: The Library Across the Street
Posted by Joseph D'Agnese
To celebrate National Library Week, we’ve invited Quirk authors to write about their favorite libraries. Joseph D'Agnese, author of Signing Their Rights Away, Signing Their Lives Away, and Stuff Every American Should Know, remembers his.
Once upon a time I went to a school that had its own library. Across the street from the school was yet another library—the town library. The big hulking red brick building in the top picture is my old grammar school; the sign shows just how close the town library was.
That proximity meant that in addition to our visits to the school library, teachers could easily manage to fit in once-weekly excursions to the "big" library. Imagine a line of kids traipsing after their teacher, clutching precious picture books, and looking both ways before crossing the street.
When I graduated to other schools in town, they too were in walking distance of the Closter Public Library. The library, you could say, became the crossroads, the nexus, of my world.
Closter Public issued me my first library card. It taught me the meaning of that wonderful word: borrow. And it indulged me and my fellow students in the pleasant conceit that picture books took two whole weeks to read. We all knew that you whipped through such a book in a few minutes the first time around, then settled in to savor every illustration.
It was a small library then, but looking back I'm surprised how nimbly the Closter Public met my needs as I got older. My brothers and I used its encyclopediae to write an endless series of mind-numbing school papers. We mastered the intricacies of the card catalog, the reference section, and the photocopier, which for a long while was the only such device in town. When it was on the fritz, scholarship stagnated town-wide.
Once a year, in April, the library hosted a book sale in its basement, and it amazes me to recall how kids and adults would line up hours before for the chance to get first crack at those seemingly rare volumes. Today I can find and order any used book I want in minutes without leaving my chair. But the thrill of the hunt is gone.
When I was in my teens, I discovered the library's crime fiction section and was amazed how much great stuff had been lurking there all along, waiting for me to develop an affinity for dames, gats, bruisers, and private dicks.
When I left home, I missed my hometown library. Vast university facilities offered so much, but learning to navigate them was such a chore.
When I visit my parents today, I always pass by the old library. It's still across the street from the grammar school. Funny: there's not even a crosswalk painted on the road between the two. I thought by now that the geniuses at town hall would have done that, or else erected a gilded bridge that swiftly whisked kids from the mundane world to the far richer one across the street.