I've always gravitated to libraries. It doesn't matter how large or small they are, I have to investigate them, because there are never enough books in the world to satisfy my curiosity and love of reading. My mother taught me to read at the ripe old age of four, and, ever since, it has been a window to pleasure and learning.
The first library I remember was in the small town of Maitland, Florida, in the mid-1950's. The building had once been a large one-story house, and the steps up to the double doors always signalled a new adventure for me. I would ride my bike there and spend hours exploring the stacks. For several weeks one year, I was allowed to volunteer there to help with various chores, including replacing books on the shelves, so that I could earn a Girl Scout badge. It was then that I learned the Dewey Decimal System for categorizing and filing books by subject. Thirty years later, I would return to that library with our children. Maitland was now a suburb of Orlando, and where we lived for nearly 20 years. The library building had been added to, there were lots more books to peruse and borrow, but every time I walked into the "old" part of the library, all those girlhood memories flooded back. And I loved the connection that our family had to that place.
Currently, I have a card that allows me access to all the libraries in the Chicagoland area; they are all linked by computer and lend books to any branch, if requested. I can go online, search for a book, ask for it, and it is sent to my local library. It's a great help when I'm researching something or unable to locate a book in my town library. But, I still prefer to search the shelves on my own. Everyone in my family knows I could spend entire days inside a library. And there isn't a city I visit that I don't look for a library to explore, from the Library of Congress in D.C. to the smallest little book repository in a tiny hamlet somewhere.
Of course, I love bookstores, too, but access to a library is like finding a pot of gold for me. All those books, and I don't have to pay for any of them! Our daughter and son, their mates and children have acquired this same reverence for books and reading, and that gives me such satisfaction. I know they will never want for a way to escape into other worlds, to take journeys through pages that they might never take in real life, and have the ability to enrich their minds and build their dreams.
There is talk these days that electronic books and their like will mean the death knell to the printed page. I don't believe it. Because for so many like me, there is a special magic in reading a book you've spent time choosing from a library that has no equal. Besides, there are printed documents that are hundreds of years old, and we already know that electronic reproductions will deteriorate fairly rapidly. But, logical arguments aside, you'll never get me to read a book on a computer screen or a handheld device. Give me the smell of the ink, the paper, the binding. Let me escape at my leisure in a comfortable chair by the fire, or a relaxing deck chair in the shade of a tree, or propped up on pillows in bed before sleep overtakes me. That is the joy of the written word, and one of my favorite vices.