The House of Learning: Libraries Now and Then

A House of Learning

When I was younger, I spent heaps of time at the Yolo County Library on 14th Street.  I wasn't an overly outgoing child, and frequently found a refuge in the children's room.  Walking in felt like entering a beige space of tranquility and organization.  Built in 1969, it had a feel of neutrality, newness and comfort to my elementary sensibilities.  I remember during the summer months the librarian-Mrs. Sekerak, the lovely white haired figurehead-used to prepare a reading challenge.  There weren't any fancy awards, or large cash prizes-what I remember is it was a place to record what you read, and challenge yourself to push ahead.   And she was always there, ready to lead us in the right direction.

Naively, one summer I believed that I could start at "A" and read all the books in the children's section.  How many of us have done this?  Systematically I would pull the books, write my name on the card and hand it to the librarian for check out.  Nothing to scan, beep or navigate under a laser-just a simple index card that promised I would return.

Needless to say, I never made it all the way around to "Z". I don't recall quite where I got sidetracked, but I'm sure it was along the lines of 'Betsy-Tacy", "Misty of Chincoteague",  or "Mr. Popper's Penguins" (yes, it was a book before a movie).

As a young adult, my trips to the library mostly involved sequestering in the carrels of  Cal at Moffitt Library, deep into my required readings.  Emerson, Byron, Bronte, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Morrison, Walker filled my days and nights.  Occasionally I would venture towards Hargrove Music Library for a change of pace-the thumping of African drum beats and strains of choral music added to the aggregation of themes running through my brain.

As a parent, I'm back in Davis, although not much about the library is as it was in the 1970s.  The architecture of functionality of 2011 involves the sophistication of the times.  Patrons are delighted with cool color tones, textured surfaces, and sparkling digital stations.  Divisions are established for children, teens and adults, each space catering to delight the occupants with comfy chairs, computers, performance stages, and study areas to match any style.  Rowling, Riordan, Westerfield, and Meyers have arrived, supplementing the classics I loved so well. Long gone are the index cards, returns run by automation before one even walks through the doors.  Librarians-yes, they're still there-now more as 'troubleshooters to technology'.  Sadly, I don't think my kids nor I even know their names.

Circulating through this space, I think about how much libraries have meant to me.  I think of the stories, the comfort, the learning I have received and still rely on as a highlight to my day.  I watch the children balancing stacks of picture books, smiles on their faces.  I watch the teens on their laptops, reading and studying.  I watch the grownups searching for the latest DVD or CD to take home on a Friday night.  I watch the newcomers to Davis searching for the best learning tools.  I watch the homeless looking for a cool place to bide their time or browse the internet.  I watch myself as a young girl, believing that if I just started at the beginning I could automatically make my way to 'z', with nothing to stop her.

What I've learned is that life doesn't operate on a Dewey Decimal system.  Beautiful, frustrating, and magical things disrupt us over and over again.  And that's ok.  What I'm still learning is that the learning happens, no matter what system it's assembled in.

Would we want it any other way?

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