The New Worlds She Found in Her Library

Read this reflective narrative about going to the library.

As a girl, Theresa spent hours at her local library. When she dropped in for a quick stop as an adult, she was struck by both nostalgia and the sense that so much had changed — about the library and about herself.

In preparation for a relaxing Christmas break at home, I had put a book on hold at my childhood library and was dropping in to pick it up and search for a few others. As usually happens when I go to the library, I found more than I expected. To step into a library is to step into a world of new stories and ideas — and there’s no telling where those connections will take us.

I arrived 15 minutes before closing time on that freezing winter night to find the front of the massive brick building and the children’s room inside it completely under construction. The library had been built when I was 8 years old. I had spent countless hours in that bright, airy children’s room searching for a new Babysitters Club or American Girl book.

I used to know exactly where all my favorite books were tucked. The Harry Potter books lined a long shelf near the windows — I plowed through those in the fall of fourth grade. Gail Carson Levine hooked me on her fairy tales reimagined with Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre. For months, I anxiously scoured her shelf in the middle of the room for any of her books I had missed.

As I entered the library that night, my eyes automatically trained on the massive fish tank that formed the wall between the children’s room and the rest of the library. As a child, I would stop to stare at the colorful fish during every visit. Now, the tank sat empty and covered in plastic.

I didn’t peer in the side meeting room where my painted hand had once been pressed to the wall and my name inscribed under it — one amidst a sea of children’s handprints. I’m pretty sure that was painted over long ago.

I bypassed the teen section where, as a high schooler, I would hunt for good historical fiction or the newest Meg Cabot novel. Even during college summers, I had found Little Women there, which led me to nearby sections to discover The Great Gatsby and Mere Christianity.

Tonight, I headed to the adult section, which I had little prior experience navigating. As I searched for Jojo Moyes’ latest novel, The Giver of Stars, I felt inexplicably happy. I would have thought that seeing the dramatic changes to a place that I had loved growing up would have depressed me.

Instead, I felt grateful that this library had fostered my love of literature and of writing. Change is inevitable and isn’t always bad, right? I had left my hometown, studied English, and began a career in writing and digital media in a different city. I was no longer that little girl buried amid the sunlit shelves. It seemed right that the library, in turn, had changed dramatically without my knowledge.

No copies of The Giver of Stars were in stock, so I settled for a few of Moyes’ older titles and headed to check out. I found myself being overly chatty with the librarian, who was reading What You Wish For by Katherine Center, the exact book I had on hold, and gave me rave reviews of it (she was right — I loved it so much that I read it twice). I dug in my wallet for the library card etched with my seven-year-old signature. As a teenager, I had memorized its number after placing so many books on hold. Unable to find the card, I gave her my license instead.

I drove into the black, bitter night with my stack of books and Ed Sheeran’s newest song on repeat. His words seemed to summarize the bittersweet joy I felt:

Oh, I won’t be silent and I won’t let go.
I will hold on tighter ’til the afterglow
And we’ll burn so bright ’til the darkness softly clears.

The library would be beautiful when the renovations were finished — I knew that. I had just caught it in that messy in-between phase. This reimagined library would become a beloved space to a new generation of book-loving children. And that’s okay.

This is a new dimension.
This is a level where we’re losing track of time.

And it’s okay that what I loved about the library is a memory now. It formed me into the person I am and helped give me the words I love to write. That was all that it ever needed to do.

Oh, I will hold on to the afterglow.

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