The exterior, brown brick, of my childhood library

About a week ago, my brain bounced around looking for the next nostalgic topic (as it often does). The journey of starting a blog has opened up my mind to all kinds of memories. I’m writing about my childhood library because it’s part of who I grew up to be–a reader, a learner, and someone who likes checking out movies for free. 🙂

I can almost remember my first coherent library memory, toddling through those automatic doors of the Mandarin Branch in Jacksonville, Florida. When my mom walks me back to the children’s section in 1990something, I see a huge green and yellow dragon hanging from the ceiling. (I hope it’s still there!) One half of the room is filled with picture books of different varieties, the other half with chapter books of all kinds. A respectable section of the wall is lined with VHS tapes that will make you laugh, cry, and learn something. A personal favorite? The 1988 Ramona video collection, based on the books by the late and beloved Beverly Cleary.

Surprisingly, one of my first concepts of 90s Nickelodeon came from this library. A small carousel would display a rotation of popular kids’ books. I believe I glanced at the cover of a Clarissa Explains It All novelization, along with a cover depicting characters from the Animorphs series. Throw in Shelby Woo or Alex Mack, probably. I can’t remember exactly, but that carousel had some of the coolest TV properties in book form. I’m amazed at how much of an impression those covers had on me, even if I was too young to watch all the shows they were based on.

For me, there wasn’t just one single public library. My mom’s motto seemed to be, “Have library card, will travel.” We went all over town for the bookworm goodness, and I’m so thankful to have been exposed to the library system at such a young age. While I pored over interesting chapter book titles, my little sister would look at picture books or play in the toddler area. She was obsessed with the movie A Simple Wish starring Martin Short and Mara Wilson, and we always checked that one out over the river in Julington Creek.

Animorphs, Clarissa, and Alex Mack books

We visited several other branches of the library, but I started to really fall in love with the main branch downtown as I neared the end of my music degree in college. The downtown library had tons of musical scores, biographies, CDs, and several floors of other works I was interested in.

I don’t live in Jacksonville now, but that town taught me how to use the library. I became pretty adept at finding what I was looking for, whether for pleasure reading or a school project. In addition to all the fiction and nonfiction books I checked out, I found all kinds of videos and DVDs that I enjoyed watching with my family or by myself.

It’s become a habit when I visit somewhere or move somewhere to find my local library and seek out the coolest bookstores. University libraries are another subject I would gladly write about, but the public library is the one that connects us all. People in school, out of school, all ages and backgrounds, linked together by a love of reading as we peruse shelf after shelf.

I’ll get off my library soapbox and return to the power of memory. A book is tactile, so we can feel the cover, the spine, the pages. And yes, that book smell is pretty important. I’m not opposed to e-reading, but those sensory aspects of the physical form have always stayed with me. Even if I don’t remember the title, I remember the feeling of picking up the book, feeling it in my hands, looking at the cover art, reading the book blurb, and deciding whether or not to take it home. In elementary school, if it had one of my favorite characters on it, that was a bonus.

 

Entering kindergarten at the end of the 1990s, literacy was a prevalent message wherever I went. I could watch Reading Rainbow with LeVar Burton, then enter a contest to read a certain amount of books for school (anyone else remember getting a Pizza Hut pizza for that?), and see inspiring, colorful posters with the word “READ” splashed across them.

Books were/are a way of opening kids’ minds and encouraging them to use their imaginations. From my recollection, the 90s was the decade of reading.

If you’ve stopped here before, you’ve seen me wax philosophic about having a time machine or even being born earlier than I was. However, I don’t feel that way about my library experience. I cherish the memories I have and appreciate the spirit those early reading days instilled in me. If you ask my parents what my first word was, they’ll say that I growled at them to “READ!” Between the books we bought and the ones we checked out, I was fortunate to have a plentiful supply of reading material. I’m not great at immersing myself in fiction right now since my mind is so focused on research, but I think good stories can be found anywhere. Thanks for reading a little bit of mine.

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