(Image via flickr)
The Hollywood Library—Hollywood being a neighborhood in Portland, not the Hollywood—was a home away from home when I was young. The building’s exterior had a very 1960s red mosaic tile, and inside was a drinking fountain epic for its strong flow and cool water. Light poured in from huge windows; in my memory the lights are always off in the library and the sun just pours in, though that can’t possibly be true in rainy Portland. The librarians were friendly but matter-of-fact—even as a hyperactive child I knew the library was no place for being rambunctious.
The children’s section was just to the left of the entrance, complete with pillows and cushions for cozying up with a book and staying a while. Book after book was stamped with its Dewey decimal number and the letter J. I always looked for the J, because that was the sign that a book was probably for me. J stands for Juvenile, a word I didn’t really understand, but that didn’t matter. For me it stood for Joy.
I had my first library card before I could write my name nicely, so my signature looks like the word “Ian” written by someone intentionally writing with their non-dominant hand. It was in the Hollywood Library that the world of Maurice Sendak, Steven Kellogg and Mercer Mayer opened to me, then as many Choose Your Own Adventure books as they would let me check out at one time.
Later on, as a junior in high school, I checked out Peterson’s Guide to Four Year Colleges and kept it so long and renewed it so infrequently (this was before the days of online renewal) that I racked up a nearly $100 fine. They eventually just forgave the fine, figuring (I guess) that it was worth the trade-off to have one of their young patrons that interested in college.
After I moved away from Portland—and before I moved back—the Hollywood Library moved to a new location a few blocks away. The old location I knew is now a bakery, though I haven’t gone in since the library moved. I guess the new location is bigger and it’s certainly more technology friendly. I miss the 1960s tile and the water fountain. Change isn’t easy, dear. But the books are still there, as are the friendly people, as is the magic of being able to present a plastic card and leave with a book or ten for free.
And my adult signature that says “Ian Doescher” is just as illegible as my child’s scrawl, even thirty years later.
Ian Doescher is the author of the William Shakespeare's Star Wars trilogy. He lives with his family in Portland, Oregon