Feed Your Head: Use Your Library

Gerry Boyle here, and I was just thinking about my formative years, when maybe I should have been writing stories, penning plays, scribbling poems, like kids are supposed to do if they want to be writers. But I wasn’t writing. I was reading, spending my childhood with my nose in a book. I had no choice. it was a family thing.

I grew up in Cranston, R.I., in a section of the city called Edgewood. Our street backed up to the grounds of the William Hall Library, an imposing edifice with heavy glass and brass doors and marble floors that sent footsteps echoing to the vaulted ceiling. It was cavernous and cool in the summer, warm in winter, always filled with that thick, palpable library hush.

My family went to the library every Saturday. We needed to get enough books to last the week, which meant shopping bags full. Stacks that were placed on the floor next to my father’s chair. Books for bedside tables and the porch and school reports and the beach. Books about wars and dynasties and novels set in places I’d only vaguely heard of. Paperback mysteries and big fat biographies. Books about horses (younger sisters),  the wilderness (me),  American history (my dad), and fictional lives (my mom). Books about things I’ve long forgotten. Books, books, and more books.

It’s a cliche but the library really was my window to the world. The known universe at your fingertips.  A place entirely devoted to reading with people to help if you had a question, like a church for book worshippers—with book deacons who told the kids to shush. For us readers it was a temple, a book-lined sanctuary.

I’m no doubt preaching to the choir but maybe not. Just a few weeks ago one of my friends, a fellow who reads pretty much all the time, asked me this question: Do we even need libraries anymore? He buys books in shops, on Amazon. Any reference question can be answered by Google.  Why drive to a building full of books?

Well, we know a library is more than that, especially now. A library is a community center for readers, a place to talk about books you’ve read, hear about books you should read. You can meet authors  talk to friends about the authors you’ve just met, gather with like-minded readers. When you walk through the door, you know you’re in a place with kindred spirits, people who value the printed word, the beautifully illustrated children’s book, the audio book.

I’ve now replaced the Hall Library with the Albert Church Brown Library in China Village. My kids grew up there, in a room lined with children’s classics. Dahlov Ipcar. Robert McCloskey. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a village with a library.

For that reason I’ve got a few talks lined up at Maine libraries large and small in coming months. The schedule is at gerryboyle.com and on my Facebook author page. I almost always accept a library’s invitation to visit. It’s an author’s way of giving back and I know I’ll be in the company of a community of readers.  What better place for a writer?

Sometimes when I’m an event, signing books, someone will say almost apologetically, “I’ve read your books but I get them at the library.”

I’m glad you do.



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7 Responses to Feed Your Head: Use Your Library

  1. Gram says:

    Wonderful comments about libraries. I feel the same way. And I spent my childhood in the library too…Dee

  2. Our night was Thursday, and the library was on the common in Walpole, Massachusetts. Great memories!

  3. MCWriTers says:

    Oh, the enchantment of Ipcar. The excitement of lugging that big stack of books home and working my way through them. And that planted the seeds for doing the same thing with my boys. Our favorite Halloween books, our favorite Christmas books. The bookshelves in my house are full. There are stacks of books everywhere, and I’m still regularly at the library, when one day, as I was walking through the stacks, a book of Donald Hall short stories jumped off the shelf and landed at my feet. Before that, I hadn’t read many short stories. Now I write them. You never know what will happen in a library.


  4. Gerry Boyle says:

    Ah, the wonderful books that jump off the shelf!

  5. John Clark says:

    Thank you from a librarian and writer. For every moment I question whether what I do for a living makes any difference, there are at least three other ones with such a complete sense of rightness about some interaction I had with a patron that the doubt seems completely absurd. No amount of technology will EVER replace the look in the eyes of a six year old who just got their own library card.

  6. Lea Wait says:

    And those who say Amazon wil replace libraries (what???!) have forgotten that, for so many people, books are still a luxury item. And much as I’d love to have all my readers buy my books … if every library in the country bought a copy, that would be as good — or better! What family can afford to buy those “bags and bags” of books library families devour? So of course there’s a role for libraries in today’s world! From story times for tots to book groups for senior citizens …. to every one of us in between who want a place to do research, to find treasures, to escape the world and be among our hard and paper-backed friends, libraries are sanctuaries, friends, and places to find ourselves.

  7. Barb Ross says:

    Since my book was published and in my work with Level Best Books, I’ve been to a lot of libraries all around New England. It always astonishes me how you go to some libraries and the place is so busy–you can just tell it is a hub of the community. The staff are bright-eyed and know their stuff and the citizens are involved. And then you’ll go to the next, demographically identical place, and you could shoot a cannon through the library without harming anyone, the staff are confused and ill-informed and the few people around are irritated.

    It seems to me it must come down the the head librarian and the staff he or she hires. (Or to how much the town government or citizens care about hiring the right person for that all important job.) I can think of no other explanation. But in any library where the staff “gets it,” you can tell you are in a place that is about so much more than simply lending citizens books.

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