Library memories

Neil Gaiman reads from The Ocean at the End of the LaneI went to see Neil Gaiman read and sign books in Santa Rosa, California recently. After he read from The Ocean at the End of the Lane, he answered some audience questions. One question was “What did you read as a child, and what influenced you?” The question was not a surprise but the answer was, a bit. Gaiman said that he read “everything. “My parents used to drop me off at the library when I was a child, and they would go off to work,” he said. “I started in the Children’s Library and read everything, starting with the As.” (Gaiman was quick to say that libraries should not be used for child care.)

This got me thinking about the first library I remember, and the one that I have the best childhood memories of. The first library I ever checked out a book from was in a little town north of us. It was a Dale Carnegie library, made of gray marble with a flight of steps and two tall pillars in the front. I had heard and read mythological stories and I thought it was a temple. The library I have the most vivid memories of, though, is my one-room grade-school library, which was in an outbuilding on the school property. It had two steps up to the door, with a gap between the stairs and the threshold of the library. There was a built-in heater that smelled like baking dust all winter long, and three walls covered floor to ceiling with books. I discovered Andre Norton in that library. The building would be condemned these days and was probably completely unsafe, but it was my treasure trove.

What is your first memory of a library? How did the library influence you when you were young? What is your most vivid memory? Please share!

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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  1. My earliest library memory is of the tiny little library that my elementary school had. For a few years, classes would go there once a week, to pick out a book. Most of the kids went straight to the section with picture books, or books for kindergarten kids, figuring that they had to get a book and read it but nobody told them it had to be a book for their reading level, and their required reading could be over in a matter of minutes. I never did that. I always browsed the shelves for better books. And there rarely were any, but I kept looking, and often would just grab any random book by the end and read it through the week. My parents encouraged me to try to read beyond my reading level all the time but never took the time to help me with it, which unfortunately resulted in me reading books filled with words I didn’t know, and if there was a story to them, I couldn’t puzzle it together.

    When I got older, libraries became my refuge. I had a somewhat unpleasant childhood, and when things got bad, I’d pretty much run away to the library for hours at a time, finding a book and losing myself in it so that I didn’t have to worry about the real world for a little while. Libraries, and the books in them, saved my sanity. Since then, books have been a great comfort in bad times, excellent fun in good times, and something I wouldn’t be without even if you paid me!

  2. Mostly we had a bookmobile! Oh, we had a library that was basically the ‘center’ of our elementary. All the classes were along the sides of the building and the center was a library. The shelves were up against each classroom. But I don’t remember doing anything related to books in that library. It was where we saw educational movies (that never ran successfully. The tape always twisted or jittered or failed.) Guest speakers came and we’d sit in our little chairs and listen to the policeman or fire guy tell us about his job.

    I vaguely recall browsing the books one day, but have no memory of the books.

    But I knew the bookmobile schedule by HEART!!!

  3. Some libraries are VERY odd – I wrote a blog about this some time ago – I love their differences and I can’t wait until I can take my grandchildren (assuming that any are still open then !)

  4. I have such fond memories of the libraries I used to visit when I was a kid. One was my elementary school library. It was one big room that I can still visualize. I was very familiar with it and knew where everything was. I remember working my way through all of the Three Investigators books and if I went in there today, I could walk right to them. I must have read hundreds of books from that library when I was a kid.

    I also loved the public library (Melbourne Public Library in Melbourne Florida). I can still visualize it, too, including where to find particular books. There was a duckpond outside and we used to take bags of bread to feed the ducks. This was such a treat!

    I was curious whether the duckpond was still there and found a recent picture of it at a photographer’s website:

    I need to take my kids there!

  5. melissa /

    my first memories of a library were the library in cheney, washington. they had an excellent children’s program, and we would go for story time and then pick out books. i read most of the nancy drew books, babysitter club books and lots of other stuff in the kids section there before venturing into the adult fiction stacks to start feeding my fantasy longings.

  6. Sandyg265 /

    My earliest memory of a library was the one in my hometown. You had to go down a flight of stairs to get to the children’s books.

  7. Great topic. If there is one thing book nerds love to talk about it would be about how they first accessed the books they love. I grew up in a small town without a lot of money. Luckily for us a rich philanthropist who built most of the town had set aside a large sum of money to fund the schools and libraries. So unlike a lot of little towns I had access to a relatively nice library.

    The library itself was located several blocks from the elementary school. I have fond memories of getting in line on “library day” and making the trek through down to get some books. I was fascinated early on by non-fiction. The children’s section was limited in this regard and wasn’t long before I was allowed to wonder upstairs to graze upon more adult pastures.

    So my local library had massive impact on me as a child, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that it would lead me to my love of SciFi/Fantasy. Someone had donated to the library a massive collection for SFF books. The library did not have the room to stock them, and they did not have much demand for them. They knew me well and new that I had basically devoured their entire selection. They called me and asked if I wanted them. I was soon the proud owner of what was probably the largest speculative fiction collection in a 50 mile radius. I read most of them, and was basically hooked from then on. I miss that library, and I plan to take my daughter there in the next year or so. It’s not that far away and it I’ve heard it hasn’t changed much.

  8. here’s a picture

    For a town of less than 2000 this was a pretty nice place.

  9. I remember the library we used to go to when I was between the ages of 7 and 10. It was actually located in a strip mall with a candy store next door (with 10 cent candy…you know where we went after the library!). It was a fairly small library, but it certainly didn’t lack that library smell. That’s what I miss with more modern libraries…that smell. This library actually stands out for me because it was where I checked out a book that had a real impact on me. It was A Summer To Die by Lois Lowry. The book was about sisters and one of them gets very sick and dies. I was very close with my sister and that book made me appreciate her even more…and it made me worry about her A LOT. I never forgot that book. I can even picture myself taking it off the shelf all those years ago. Another memorable and funny thing about that library was the bathroom (I know…). The walls were covered in a collage of pictures of African masks and ethnic images (I think…I know it was some very amazing images to my young mind, but I can’t pinpoint for certain what they actually were in my memory. HaHa!

  10. RedEyedGhost /

    The first library I remember going to was in a big three level building that was open in the center to look across all three levels. They held a Saturday morning story time, and my most vivid memory was my mom getting a speeding ticket trying to get us kids there on time one morning. It was a lovely building, but they moved the library to a brand new building before I was ten and it never had the same magic. I’m sure the “new” building had gained a little bit of that magic by now.

  11. Melanie Goldmund /

    I always feel like I grew up in my local city library, but I suppose I only dragged my parents there about once a week when I was younger. At that time, you could only check out ten books on one card, and I always had ten books out at one time. I even wrote out an application to work at the library when I was twelve, even though you had to be sixteen to work there. Maybe that helped me get the job later! From then on, I spent most of my days there until I moved out of the country. But even now, the old library building still shows up in my dreams! Just can’t get it out of my system, I guess — and really, why would I want to? Such great memories!

  12. April /

    I don’t recall if I enjoyed libraries prior to 8th grade – I do know that once I found a box of dad’s old books (Three Investigators, Alan Dean Foster) I was hooked forever and then made it a mission to find more. Obviously that meant finding the local library – our school library had one bookshelf of fiction, only required reading so it was no draw at all. The local public library however soon became my haunt of choice all through high school.

  13. I can remember stepping onto a book mobile in Oakfield, ME in the snow with my mother when I was about 3 or 4 not but of course I was too young to check out a book.

    The first library I ever checked a book out of, again on trips with my mother was on Main St., Richwood, WV. At that time to public library was in a converted store, with the big street facing windows. Later it was very exciting when they build a real library and it had a mezzanine second floor.

  14. Maria (BearmountainBooks), if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

    Bookmobiles rock!

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