If you read this blog, you know I love to read. I am very catholic in my reading, which I blame entirely on my parents with an assist from the Kitchener Public Library. I definitely have favourites but will always pick up any book that’s just sitting there, to peruse it, to see what pleasure it might offer up.
When I was a child, I spent every Saturday during the school year at the library, reading my way through the entire collection, until at one point I realized, I had read all the books in the Children’s Section. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, maybe 10, maybe 11. Definitely not close to 13, which was the magic age for getting into the Adult Section of the Kitchener Public Library on my own, but I really needed to get in there now, not two or three years from now. They had books I hadn’t read yet!
To be fair, I’m sure that there were some books meant for very small children which I had not read in the Children’s Section, but I was reading Daphne Du Maurier and Winston Churchill at home so I don’t think it was unreasonable of me to say that there were no more books for me in the Children’s Section.
Even if I don’t remember for sure how old I was, I do remember coming home one Saturday with only three or four books, one of which was an Enid Blyton I was fairly certain I had previously read, but I loved her stuff so didn’t mind the re-read at all. My father saw me come through the kitchen into the family room where I plunked down my few pitiful volumes. He saw the paucity of books and asked me, jokingly, “What? Have you read all the books in the Library?”
I started crying! Fathers don’t like it when their children cry, especially when it starts immediately after they’ve made what they think is a joke.
I told him that he was right, I had read all the books in the library. At least in the Children’s library. Only the librarians wouldn’t let me go into the Adult section because I wasn’t old enough. I wasn’t a brat enough to add that I also thought they were making a little fun of me because they didn’t believe I had read all those books but I was thinking just exactly that.
Adults were sometimes completely incomprehensible to me as a child. Honestly, you stupid grown-up. Can you not see I’m dorky enough as it is? I would add to the dorkiness by admitting I had read thousands of books already by the age of 11?
Anyway, my father, who was as much of a book dork as I was, talked with my mother and then called the Library to speak with… Miss Shoemaker.
Miss Dorothy Shoemaker. I believed she was the head of the Children’s Library but she actually was even higher up the ladder to perfection that that. She was the Head Librarian. She was the Keeper of the Books. She was… Miss Shoemaker. She Who Would Decide.
My parents had always left every book they owned on the shelves. If we could pull it off the shelf and wanted to read it, we were allowed to do so. Their philosophy was if we couldn’t understand it, we were too young to read it. Young could be by age but usually meant by interest or inclination. They would rarely explain what books meant, although sometimes words or expressions, especially dated slang, would be elucidated. Or at the least, the dictionary was offered up.
By the time I was 10, I had read every L.M. Montgomery book written, along with my mother’s entire collection of Nancy Drew, all of my father’s Uncle Wiggly books, as well as most of what would be considered classic children’s literature. I had read “Winnie The Pooh”, “The House at Pooh Corner”, “When We Were Very Young” and “Now We Are Six” so often, I had memorized most of A.A. Milne’s poetry! But I had also read Churchill’s biography, “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier, “Marjorie Morningstar” (talk about not understanding everything! but oh, I loved her and felt her pain) and the Collected Plays of George S Kaufman (which is not to say all of them, but a nice little sampling. I still love “Dinner At Eight”.) Given these reading credentials, it only made sense to my parents that I should be allowed to borrow books from the Adult Section.
Ah, but would it make sense to the Library, which meant would it make sense to Miss Shoemaker?
So there was a phone call to Miss Shoemaker. And discussions amongst the staff. And a phone call back to my parents. And The Discussion with my parents.
It had been decided I would be allowed to go into the Adult section of the Library on my own the following Saturday and choose three or four books. I believe there was a temporary card for this purpose, and there were admonishments about remembering that it was the Library and I wasn’t to “fool around” but to choose my books and check them out and treat them responsibly while I had them. If that went well, I would be given my own, permanent card to the Adult section but only as long as it continued to go well.
If I could dance, I would have! If I could sing, I would have! All those books could be mine! For two weeks at a time.
So, the following Saturday, as soon as the refrigerator was clean (please see earlier post “Saturday’s Child Must Work Hard For a Living”), I was off. Down Samuel Street, over to Frederick, past Sudaby School, past the entrance to the Children’s Library, around the corner of the building and there…there it was. The Front Door to Heaven. Or, as it was known to most of the people walking in and out, the Adult section of the Kitchener Public Library.
I walked in, and as instructed, went to the desk and introduced myself and said, oh so very nonchalantly, “I’m just going to take a look around, see what I want.” That, by the way, is probably as close to a “cool” line as I’ve gotten in my life!
I noticed at the time that in the 20 minutes or so during which I agonized over which books I wanted to borrow that there were an awful lot of librarians popping up in the stacks exactly where I was. And I also noticed that when I finally went to check out, there was a face peering at me through the glass in the window which divided the library proper from the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, the staff area. It was Miss Shoemaker, of course.
My choices were remarked on by the librarian checking me out. If I were any kind of memoirist – or my sister VCR Vicky – I would remember the titles of those books (I do know one was a J.J. Marric ‘Gideon’ mystery; still love that series to death) but I don’t. I just know that I was 10 and I had an ADULT LIBRARY CARD and life was just about freaking perfect.
Thus, I was the first child to ever use the Adult section of KPL. And while it can’t actually be true that the rules were changed by the time I got back to the Library to exchange my first selections and get more books, that it only seems that way, I do know that it really wasn’t that long before KPL changed the way it permitted children to take out “adult” books. And all because of me. Or at least, I’m going think so… forever.
My relationship with the Library – with all libraries – is on-going. When I move somewhere new, I look for the best place to buy coffee, the best place to buy flowers, and the library. Usually the library first. My father’s own relationship with the Kitchener Public Library also deepened as well. He served on their Board of Directors for a number of years and became very good friends with Miss Shoemaker’s successor, Lynn Matthews.
Honestly, I cannot imagine my life without the gift of books and reading. The pleasure and joy they have brought me, the adventure I have taken, the people I have met, and all from the cozy warmth of my chesterfield.
Thank you, Miss Shoemaker. Thank you very much indeed.