I was 16 years old before I entered a public library.
My driving started early on the farm, but it didn’t translate into driving my own vehicle regularly until I left for college. Driving to town usually meant running an errand for my parents, like groceries or going to pick up an equipment part. Those errands never included the public library. In fact, I’m certain I never considered it until I couldn’t get a copy of Jane Eyre at the high school library.
I didn’t regularly read classics as a teenager, but I was intrigued when a title was not included in our school library and my teachers and librarian would not help me get a copy. What was it all about? Why didn’t they want me to read it?
Curiosity is powerful.
I walked up the front steps to our brick public library. Straight in from the front door, the circulation desk held court. Nervous, even though I spent a lot of time in our school library, I stood directly in front of the desk and waited for the librarian to address me--in a whisper.
“May I have a copy of Jane Eyre?” I asked.
“Do you have a library card?” She knew me as well as she knew everyone in our small town. I’d be willing to bet that she also knew the name on every single Library Card.
“No.” I was prepared to turn around and leave. I had no idea what I was supposed to do to gain the privilege only she could bestow on me.
“Age.” That was meant as a question though it sounded like a condemnation.
“Sixteen.” She pulled out an application card and continued with the questions until she had filled it with her beautiful script. Without another word, she walked through the doors behind her and I listened intently to make sure she hadn’t abandoned me. On her return, she set the library’s copy of Jane Eyre on the counter, removed the card in its back pocket, wrote my name on it with a due date two weeks in the future and stamped the same date on the slip inside the back cover.
She looked up at me and said, “As you can see this book has been well used. Be kind to it and I expect it back as you have received it.”
I was afraid to pick it up. A rubberband held it together. Honestly, I had no intention of taking a deep breath while holding it certain that if it didn’t smell like a Great Uncle then my eyes deceived me. Decrepit, abused or much loved? I didn’t know the difference. I had a public library book. I had a library card!
I read that book, gently turning each page, breathing shallowly and then returning it--early.