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The Library, Our Town’s Living Room
by Sue Hallett
When I was a kid, the first thing that drew me into the public library was the air conditioning. In my home on hot summer days, we kept cool, or cool-ish, by shutting the window shades, running electric fans, and whining. The library was a lusciously cool haven, where I could wander around as long as I liked. I spent a lot of time standing in front of bookshelves, pulling down a particular book, scanning the dust jacket. Soon I was lost in the world that the book created in my head.
I’m in my sixties now, and retired. I can track down any book in the world on the internet and my house is air-conditioned. But my local library holds me captive in different ways. It’s the place where I can stop in downtown to browse the new book section or use the bathroom or write out a greeting card that I just bought, so that I can mail it before I go home. I usually see people I know while I’m there. I sometimes think of the library as our town living room.
This past summer I attended a community college class at the library taught by an archaeologist who told us about excavating underground chambers on the island of Sardinia, which no one had entered since the Bronze Age. The thought of that gave me shivers. He described the Anasazi ruins at Chaco Canyon in the American Southwest, where Great Houses and roads as well-built as those of the ancient Romans still run through the high desert, for what purpose, no one is quite sure. For three hours I sat with my classmates, entranced. I lost all track of the passage of time. I could hardly wait to get home, and make my husband sit and listen to the pages of notes I’d taken.
My childhood experience of the library was a private one, just me and a book. Our library still offers the magic of books, but it has grown into a public space, too. There are things we can only understand when we take a look at them together. At this point in my life, the library is doing it all again in a new, more collaborative way, taking me to faraway places along with my neighbors, opening up larger worlds, making time stand still. I can’t wait for the next Chaco Canyon.
Sue Hallett is the President