We lined up in small groups, invariably holding hands with a partner. I remember the feeling of excitement and the sound of our leather heels tapping along the wax-buffed hallway. Proceeding in what a casual observer would consider an orderly fashion, we marched through the double doors, and out onto the sun speckled pavement beyond.
It was parked along the curb of an otherwise deserted street. The Bookmobile! Anticipation peaked at the two-step entrance of the large trailer. The stuffy smell of new carpet wafted through the open doorway. Pristine was not in my vocabulary at the age of seven or I might have used this word to describe the spotless blue floor. With a shy hesitance, I considered removing my shoes before stepping onto the carpeted surface.
Entering the mobile library and circling the rows of books was as thrilling to me as a field trip. I don’t recall having field trips as a child, but if I had, I could not have been more eager. We did not speak−not even in whispers. In a well-behaved manner, we waited patiently while the librarian initialled the card at the front of our chosen books, each of us mouthing the words thank you as we turned to leave.
Beaming, I stepped down to the pavement, bony knees protruding from my box pleated navy jumper. I walked smartly back to the classroom, a book tucked tightly against my skinny frame. A treasure I would enjoy for a whole two weeks before the Bookmobile rolled around to our school again. That memory has not diminished throughout the years. Nor has my love of libraries.
I introduced my granddaughter to the library when she was a toddler. The small local branch has a spacious children’s section that includes an abundance of wooden puzzles and a play table with an assortment of stimulating toys. It’s habit that I read a storybook with her perched on my lap, and then allow time for puzzles and quiet play. We choose another storybook to enjoy at home. This is a much-anticipated activity.
Sophie has celebrated her fifth birthday and we still include a trip to the library with each visit. We have explored several within the county. Perhaps she will pass on our respect for libraries and the appreciation of books to her children. How pleased I would be.
However, libraries are changing. The focus has shifted away from books. It is disappointing to see children race and scream, fall down and roll on the floor. Mothers slouch in chairs balancing a Tim Horton’s and an iphone. The play areas resemble day care centres.
The first time we encountered noisy behaviour, Sophie clung to my side. Inexplicably, I felt I had let her down. That I had misinformed her. That I had taught her something that was no longer relevant. Libraries are not the reverent silent oasis of my childhood.
How sad that online lending centres could replace these institutions in the future. Children will learn how to read, not on their grandmother’s lap, but by touching a screen and hearing the computerized enunciation.
All children will read by the age of three−oh c’mon give me something to be happy about− but these kids will never experience the joy of browsing the aisles of row upon row of print editions. They will never have the pleasure of stroking crisply inked words on creamy thick paper.
Nor will they know the exhilaration of stepping off the Bookmobile with their treasures tucked beneath their arm.