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Thinking Out Loud

I Love Libraries

by Michael Jinkins | Oct 25, 2016

I Love LibrariesWhenever I drive through a town and pass a public library or walk across a campus and see the school's library, I can almost hear the community's heartbeat. I love libraries, from neat little Carnegie libraries tucked into small villages to the vast New York City Library's main building on Fifth Avenue to our own seminary's library across the quadrangle from my office.

My love for libraries dates to my early childhood. I can still remember the first book I checked out of the little library at the Redland Elementary School. I mean the first real book with real chapters. It was the second grade. I can't recall the title or the author, but it was about the most wonderful adventure of serving on a merchant sailing vessel in the nineteenth century.

It is impossible to describe everything I felt when I closed that book on its last page. It was as though I had discovered a whole wide world beyond the hardscrabble red clay of Deep East Texas. It felt like doors being flung wide open. It wasn't the joy of reading. It was the joy of going to other places, walking in other shoes, experiencing realities that were unimaginable until they unfolded on the page. From that day onward, libraries were not places where books were stored, but treasure houses where dreams were kept.

The love affair only deepened over the years. When I was in junior high, my daily routine included walking from the middle school into downtown Lufkin where I would go to the library until my mother got finished in her office and was ready to go home. I would sit for hours, day after day after day, reading whatever I fancied and checking out as many books as they would allow. I still recall the minor scandal it caused in my religiously conservative family when I brought home several volumes of Ian Fleming (whose James Bond had already inspired me as a fifth grader to write a series of short stories on the adventures of Toron McKillan, Scottish secret agent) and Sigmund Freud (who even wrote about dreams!). At fifteen, I found both Fleming and Freud fascinating, for not entirely dissimilar reasons. Perhaps most interesting of all were the books I could not check out of the library.

In a large reading room, the library had stacks and stacks of large format art books. These couldn't leave the building. Everyone was there: Picasso; Monet; Pollock; Rothko. There were collections of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. There were volumes that carefully compared and contrasted Picasso to Matisse to Modigliani to Miro. Cezanne's deep rich colors, blue mountains and strange houses. Marc Chagall's floating lovers. Mary Cassatt's gentle portraits. I would sit in one of the huge comfortable chairs absorbing beauty and wonder.

They say that if a child reads a book that makes her laugh, she will probably be hooked on reading forever. For me, it was having a place to read where reading was the normal and ordinary thing to do that meant the most to me, a place where it wasn't odd or strange or lazy to sit and be completely absorbed in a story, in a subject, or in a good reproduction of a painting.

There are folks today who will say that libraries are a thing of the past. I suspect that most of the people who say this never had much of a relationship with a library in the first place. But I may be wrong. They, at least, don't know much about what libraries are today, or in fact, what they've been for many years. Contemporary libraries are vast high-tech search engines dedicated to connecting you with a world bigger, wider and more astonishing than ever before. They still invite the curious. They still ignite the imagination. They still make knowledge, beauty, laughter and adventure available to anyone who will enter. They still dispense dreams.

If you haven't visited one recently, I encourage you to do so. Better yet, take a child.

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