Prairie Ramblings Episode
8:00 pm
Fri January 10, 2014

Ode to the Public Library

Credit theguardian.com

Watching how much my toddler granddaughter loves books reminds me of a seven-year-old,  toothpick-legged child who thought she was a big girl when her momma handed her anallowance on Saturday mornings. Along with that shiny dime, that little girl’s mother permitted her to trek uptown-- first to the dime store and then to the library. The coin was spent in no time.  It took much longer to wander up and down the bookshelf aisles searching for the perfect three or four titles to carry home so she could escape into those well-turned pages for a week of exciting adventure.

Yes, that scrawny little gal was me. I loved my weekly visit to the library. Spending that dime occupied a half hour or so of exploring the toy department from top to bottom. I combined this with obsessing over an old-fashioned candy counter where glass compartments housed chocolate stars, jawbreakers, licorice, and caramel clusters among other treats a clerk scooped onto a scale before bagging my treasure. Munching on gooey chocolate all the way home was satisfying,  but showing off my book selections to my mom highlighted the morning.  And the best was yet to come. . . .

Hours of joyous escape and new knowledge patiently awaited me as I examined each cover to decide where my escapades would begin.  After I piled the books in reading order, I’d curl up in a sunny, warm spot in the house—maybe in the living room or on my bed where I could escape into other lands and other lives.  My grandma’s house had a great walk-in closet I could turn into my secret domain for hours while words danced off pages into pioneer wagons or princess castles or Nancy Drew mysteries.

When I had little girls, they, too, loved trips to the community library where they could scan shelves just their height until they found books that begged to go home with them in their little totes. When they entered their toddler years, our local librarian hosted a scheduled event that made this place even more appealing.  It was a terrible day when you were too sick to go to story hour.

Every time I open the door to a library, I never know what journey I’ll experience. I’ve traveled through the ages in a page-filled time machine. I’ve met kings and queens, famous soldiers and presidents, along with some rock stars.  I’ve read tales that drew tears and sighs and those that made me laugh until I had hiccups.  I discovered the key to avoiding boredom amongst all those silent friends.

What would life be like without public libraries? As a lifelong card owner, I can’t imagine.  What I have learned doing research inside those walls is that not every pioneer town had a library.  It took a zealous ladies’ organization or a combination of clubs to start libraries in prairie communities.  In Logan Kansas, women recognized the need for a library in their community and, with rustling skirts, got to work establishing one that still exists today. 

Ellis, Kansas can thank the Union Pacific and a specific employee, Mr. Dorrance, for starting their library.  It seems appropriate the city fathers named a street after the person who made such a difference in his world. Hays, Plainville, Stockton, and 56 other Kansas towns can thank Andrew Carnegie and local taxpayers for their fine libraries. 

The first Carnegie Library in Scotland had the adage “Let There Be Light” above the door. I like to imagine such a motto exists in some form above every library entrance.  

Related program: