In my memory, I still can see the interior of the St. Clairsville Public Library. I can smell it, too: that indefinable, musty-sweet scent of paper and bindings arising from thousands of books. Walking through the huge main room with its soaring ceiling, through the hallway past the circulation desk, and down the steps to the children’s room below…. I would browse the shelves, letting serendipity lead me to new discoveries. I have been a dedicated library patron ever since. The libraries in the places I’ve lived — St. Clairsville, Ohio University, Upper Arlington, Akron, and now Athens again — have provided so much more than books: computer access; movies on VHS and DVD; e-books and free music downloads; a quiet place to work (invaluable to a self-employed mom). But libraries offer so much more. As a journalist in my younger days (and now as a freelance writer), I am a firm believer in the First Amendment. The ability to speak, write, watch, and read what we please is the foundation of American freedom.
And one of my first experiences with the First Amendment came in the St. Clairsville Public Library. My elder sister had chosen a book to borrow (I think it was an Ellery Queen mystery). One of the librarians, an elderly lady, called my mother over.
“Is she allowed to read this?” the librarian asked of my mother. “It might not be appropriate.”
“My children may read whatever they please,” Mom replied. “Whatever they bring to you for checkout, you let them check out.”
Thump-click went the book stamp, and none of the librarians ever again questioned what the Colbert girls borrowed. Now I take my own sons to the library to wander among the shelves to see what piques their interest, no matter where it leads them. They may not become writers, but they definitely will respect the world of ideas — the world they find in the library.