My mother often took me to the library as a little girl. Before I started school, we made the trek each week so that I could be there for story hour. Our trips were less frequent once I started school, but there was still something almost holy about the place. My childhood memories of the local public library are colored by the light through the windows of the adult reading area, the odd texture my palms and knees took on after crawling between the shelves, and the strangely specific scent of mildew, plastic, paper, and some other unidentifiable thing that permeated through the library.
I always left with arms full of books–”you can take as many books as you can carry”–and they would ache by the time we got to the car. It wasn’t easy, carrying so many worlds in such young arms. I’d try to start reading in the car, tearing through the stories with zeal as we drove under through the parking garage beneath the building, ignoring for as long as possible the fact that reading in the car makes me sick. I’d travel the world several times ‘round as we drove home.
I’ve written before about the way my mother taught me empathy, but this is another gift she gave me. Both my parents read to me when I was young, but it was my mom who took me to the building that–for a little girl–was only a step or two down from the church. I’ll never forget the first time I stepped foot into the University of Oregon library; with its dark and hushed interior, I felt as if I’d stepped into a cathedral. In some ways, the two buildings have a similar purpose: to expand knowledge and relationships. In a church, the goal is to learn about and know God. In a library, books hold the potential for knowledge of facts and for the expansion of empathy; books can get inside your head, or let you inside another’s head, in a way that no film ever can.
Mom’s trips with me to the library didn’t just provide the key to the knowledge of the world. It gave me the opportunity to learn for myself about people around me, and to better appreciate and love them.