One of the first things my mother did the minute I learned to read was take me downstreet (that’s how my mother said it) to our local library to get my very own lI felt so grown up going there. Checking out a book made the whole reading experience an adventure. It was the beginning of a lifelong library love affair that, like all affairs, has had its ups and downs.
As I grew older and went to college in Boston, my library affair continued in the BPL (Boston Public Library) with its mahogany wood accents, creaky wooden floors, musty card catalog and miles and miles of stacks. Just the smell of all those books was intoxicating. Well, maybe not intoxicating, but it was a smell I loved (still do).
Later, while working in Manhattan, the NYPL (built in 1911) on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue won my heart. I spent hours there reading and researching my articles. I had my favorite table. My favorite chair. I felt roots growing out of the bottom of my feet and into the floor boards. I could have happily lived within its comforting walls forever.
I especially loved being there at night when it was basically just me in that huge “gothic” building, a librarian (or two), and a few bums coming in to sleep it off. There was an “oil-lamp” glow in the rooms from the table lamps’ dark colored glass shades (you know the ones w/ those little chains you pull to turn the lamps on and off) that brought images of Henry James’ New York. When I would reluctantly leave the library, I wanted to walk down those stone steps and see a horse-drawn carriage stationed between the two cement lions, perched to protect the world’s literature, ready to take me to Washington Square. Instead, I’d step off the curb, hail a cab and go to my apartment on E. 55th Street.
But as work became more competitive, life more hectic and the internet expanded, I abandoned the library as if it were scorned lover. I no longer had the time to devote to our affair. I didn’t write. I didn’t call. And I didn’t visit. And when I passed it on the street, I ignored it.
I embraced the 21st century. But I never abandoned books - real books with pages made of paper and ink (Kindles are great for traveling, but…). I hunted them down in book stores that served Starbucks or clicked my shopping cart through Amazon.com.
Then the economy crashed and $30 hardbacks and $10 paperbacks became a luxury expense. But books are my drug of choice and I was not about to go into withdrawal.
My scorned lover beckoned. But was it beckoning only to get even and keep me locked out, as Olivia de Havilland did in The Heiress, the movie adaptation of James’ Washington Square? It was time to find out. I walked over to our Studio City library, renovated not too many years ago, and stood outside a moment, almost afraid to go in. Would it forgive me for leaving libraries long ago for the new and trendy?
I stared at the new building’s modern structure of white stone/tile and rounded turquoise roof. This was certainly not the 1911 Beaux Arts, old-world structure of the NYPL, but a building that lived happily in 2011. That’s OK, I thought, I can find something to love there. I took a deep breath and went in.
Gone were the dark, rich mahogany woods and “oil-lamp” glow I grew up with. Blond woods and natural light took center stage at our SCPL. The atmosphere was bright and airy, befitting our warm and sunny climate. And gone were the musty and bruised card catalogs and micro-film machines, replaced with computer stations.
But this 21st Century library still had those wonderful stacks and you knew there were living, breathing books quietly residing on those shelves among the books-on-tape and DVDs… you could smell them. And though I miss the old-world charm of Paul Revere’s BPL and Henry James’ NYPL, this “new-world” lightness had a lot to offer. My love affair has been renewed.
If you haven’t been to our new and improved library, give it a try. I promise I won’t be jealous. We’ll have a ménage…