It’s a Winnipeg summer day in the late ’60s and I’ve set off on a walk with my big sister to get my first library card. A card with my name on it. A card that I will be expected to keep un-lost in my bedroom instead of in my mom’s purse. A card that means I’m old enough to pick out any books I want, as long as they’re from the children’s shelves. I’m cool with that.
My sister and I leave sunshine behind and head down the darkened stairs in the strip-mall where our local library branch is located. At the bottom of those stairs, the library is on the left. A bowling alley is on the right. A library and a bowling alley, side-by-side, just the way nature intended, right? Suburban life was like that in the ’60s. Sort of like the way every basement in every bungalow in our neighbourhood came with not only a laundry room, but a bar. (Not that libraries are as boring as laundry rooms!)
Anyway, my sister and I turn left. And once the library door sighs shut behind us, the sound of falling pins is muffled and we are wrapped in the calm hush of the library. Libraries were still hush-hush places back then. No computers. No one yakking on a cell phone. Just the swishing of card catalogue drawers being opened and closed, the squeak of the book-cart wheels announcing the slow but sure restocking of shelves. I stand on the threshold of a life-long friendship. An unforgettable moment.
Except I forget what books I took out. I know, that should be the point. I should remember running my fingers across all those plastic-covered book spines until I came to Anne of Green Gables or Black Beauty or some Trixie Belden mystery. Cue angel chorus! Nope. Instead, I remember the lady librarian’s pencil. It had a little stamp thingy attached to it, so that after she took the card out of the pocket that was glued onto the front page of the book, wrote my name down on that card and filed it away, she could stamp the due-date on the slip of paper that was glued to the pocket that was glued to the front page of the book. (Signing out a book was like a manufacturing process in those days.) The stamp thingy was the best part.
Actually, walking home with my sister, holding those books (whichever ones they were) against my chest so everyone could see I had been to the library was the best part. Until we got home. Then I’m sure the best, best part was sitting on a blanket under our backyard weeping-willow tree and reading those books. Those books I picked out myself. For free. Lots of things have changed since that day, but the power of a library card still thrills me.