I spent about an hour at my current favorite library this afternoon, picking up a couple of books and reading a magazine. It was as familiar and comforting as my house.
Libraries have been a part of my life for as long as I’ve been able to read. I have an unwieldy collection of books in my household, including a few that belonged to me as a kid. But the majority of reading materials I grew up on — not including comic books — were borrowed from libraries.
It’s not news to anyone that libraries are as important to our society as armories or banks or schools or factories. Libraries are where our history, our knowledge, our pleasure, our thoughts, our fantasies live.
But while a great library can be a private library — the kind of wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves I have always wanted — the greatest libraries are public libraries.
It’s the library’s pool of shared art, knowledge, ideas and stories, truly available to everyone, that makes a community complete.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Cowan School library: When I was old enough to read more than basic kids books, my school library was the center of my reading universe. I devoured as diverse a bunch of reading materials as I could: Bullfinch’s Mythology, books about great horses like Man o’ War, showbiz biographies, history, hardcover collections of newspaper comic strips, current news magazines.
At Cowan’s library I learned to love the card catalogue and figured out the mysteries of the Dewey Decimal System.
Cowan’s library, shared by elementary and high school alike back in those days, was small even in my memory. But librarian Lois Jeffers and her staff kept students endlessly amused and informed. And she maintained summer hours so I could check out a stack of Hardy Boys books every week.
Grace Maring Library, South Madison Street, Muncie (above): I didn’t live in Muncie and didn’t have a library card, but my cousin had one and we spent some pleasant days in this beautiful old library. The building still exists although it hasn’t housed a library for more than a decade. It still holds a lot of memories, though.
Carnegie Library, downtown Muncie (top): I probably spent more time in this beautiful library than any other. I haunted this library on a regular basis when I was working as a freelance writer in the early 1980s. In the days before the Internet and frequent updates on the entertainment world on TV, issues of Variety were the resource for news about the industry, so I spent a lot of time looking at Variety’s listings of new movies going into production, release dates and so on.
And there was no better place to do it than Carnegie, with its gunmetal blue stacks, ornate ceiling and semi-comfortable seats around a collection of wide, flat tables. I loved settling in to read about movies and TV from an insider’s perspective in a library that was the closest thing to a movie library setting.
Bracken Library, Ball State University, Muncie: Bracken supposedly was designed to look like stacks of books. I’ve never quite been able to figure that out. But it’s a good university library and has great resources, including a great collection of old photos and newspaper archives.
I’ve explored a few other libraries to a limited extent, including the stuffed facility in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. And of course there’s no fictional library more beloved than the Sunnydale High School library overseen by Rupert Giles in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Luckily, I’ve never been in a real-life library that’s built over a Hellmouth like in “Buffy.” But as “Buffy” fans know, nobody ever checked anything out of Giles’ library anyway. Except maybe a crossbow.