I’m going to confess my love affair to you. It’s been going on for years, and I don’t imagine it ending. I love libraries. Stately architecture that takes me somewhere larger than myself. The invitation to hush, respect, and knowledge. Librarians who know where to find answers to every question. The delight of arriving in the long, full stacks—like they’re waiting just for me. And of course, the smell of books—something about the alchemy of paper, wisdom, and time.
Libraries are a refuge. Growing up in a small midwestern town, I could hole up all day in genial safety. Kind librarian guardians held my persistent presence and stamped endless due dates. The things you find in a library accept you—books, magazines, journals, and newspapers want your company. Some libraries have magic chairs and nooks, like that fireplace in Ketchum where I read “The Grapes of Wrath” for the first time.
Libraries are treasure chests and portals. You know what I mean—discoveries await and you can go anywhere. Even for adults. When someone is exhausted, depressed, burned out—I send them to our Young Adult section. Did you even know we have one? Wondrous universes of escape, imagination and riches in our little library, perfect for when you’re blue.
Libraries are a destination. A trip to downtown L.A. is arguably incomplete without a meander through its Art Deco masterpiece. The Huntington in Pasadena and the Morgan in New York City are only two examples of research centers drawing scholars from around the world. Exactly like the Idaho Room tucked away here in McCall. People arrive in town for that room. That would be called an economic driver.
A couple years ago I packed my car and drove to Massachusetts partly for a library. The Concord Free Public Library has an entire basement with a VAULT devoted to American Special Collections. Not kidding—an entire room behind a big door with a wheel to lock it. In a LIBRARY.
On the main floor, I slowly circled the central atrium full of books and statuary, found my heart in the softly lit Transcendental room, and settled in for a week upstairs by the 800 stacks. I took zigzagging walking breaks and plotted how to smuggle in camping gear. Forget Night in a Museum, can you imagine Night in a Library?
I spent a memorable day on that Special Collections floor, riffling through books that could only be read there, eavesdropping on the librarians, and mulling over what might be in that vault. The legendary librarian (do you love that?) Leslie Wilson gleefully dropped manuscripts encased in plastic in front of me. “A survey just became available—should we acquire it?” she asked the room. We all knew what she meant—Henry David Thoreau’s elegant compass was enshrined at the entry, and I was peering at his handwriting under plastic. Upon departure, I stuffed a Twenty in the donation jar and paused one last time at the compass. I was gloriously happy.
You see, Libraries are true democracy. Everyone is welcome, and the collection of human endeavor resides here. Libraries require our participation. They don’t judge, criticize, or discriminate. They inform, educate, inspire, and elevate. You don’t even have to do very much—just walk through the door and that alchemy begins.
Our library does this. I am always delighted—the displays, the carousel of new books, children reading or creating in the back corner, Casey dressed like a Dr. Seuss character, smiles from the staff. I love the front room, where I’ve sat though Pete’s travelogues, Tracey’s stories, circles and circles of book discussions, presentations on geology, civics, movies, art, and more I’ve lost in the memory banks. Best of all, I’ve received the front door key before my own presentations. I love giving those to the room, and I love locking up the building just as much. Because it’s an act of belonging. It’s what you do when you have a home.
In the end, a library is an experience. And, the building itself seems to matter. Somehow the beauty and symmetry of a thoughtful design deepens that experience. Even though we love the one we have, can you imagine what we’ll do with a new one? One we get to envision, design, and even build ourselves? I can begin to imagine the possibilities, and I’m just as excited about what I’ve not foreseen. Let’s create the space and invite the imaginative powers of our town to the party we can have, to the ongoing love affair that also, already, belongs to you.