I have a very distinct memory of being with my fifth grade class on a field trip to the library that was located inside our school. I had never been to the library in my school before that day because I came on the bus in the morning and left school with the buses after school and I had never been given permission to visit the library at any other times during the school days.
My class was herded in. The librarian seemed highly irritated with us. (I think we might have been highly irritating back then, though.) She shushed us constantly and she tried to lecture us on how to use the card catalog (we used real cards in drawers back then), where to find the fiction and non-fiction books, (what fiction and non-fiction meant to begin with), etc. Then, she said that we were allowed to look for one book to check out and… to take home! I couldn’t believe it! I was thrilled! That was the first time I had ever been able to check out a book of my own choice!! I was so interested in books, those glorious, mysterious things…
I was inspired by that library. I liked the sun beaming through the windows, so many windows, all of them with wide window sills big enough for you to sit on, the spotless, cheerful carpets all over the floors, the private study spots everywhere, the broad, clean tables, and most of all, the cozy, funky chairs that sat on the floor just inviting you to sit down with a book. I had never seen chairs like those before. I decided that’s where I was going to sit once I chose my book…
I was confused that day, however, because I had a hard time using reading in the real world: reading the words in the card catalog, finding the right section of the library from the signs, looking for the books in alphabetical order, etc. All the confusion was humiliating, but I kept that to myself.
I ended up choosing a book that had a nice cover. I got in the long line to check it out, waited and waited and waited and as each kid ahead of me went through the line, listened to more lectures about the importance of bringing books back on time, taking care of them, etc.
But, when I was finally through the line and free, I found one of those cozy chairs on the floor. I was thrilled that one of those chairs was still open because the line had taken me so long. This was going to be great! I just knew I would love this reading thing. I had seen other people doing it. I read with my reading group everyday, but this was so different. I opened the book and started to try and understand what I was looking at when the teacher yelled,
“Times up! It’s time to go back to class!”
I was devastated. (I’m not exaggerating.) I was devastated, heart broken, angry, frustrated, so frustrated that I started to cry. I think I might have protested to the librarian and to my teacher, but any argument I managed to utter before being silenced was dismissed and rebuked as rebellion. Of course an immature fifth grader wanted “…nothing more than to waste more class time reading,” etc. etc.
I have never forgotten that experience. I couldn’t articulate what I thought was wrong with my world back then, but I am glad I have the time and freedom and ability to express myself about it now. So, with all that in mind, you can imagine the joy that I felt today when I came walking around some book shelves and saw my daughter in a funky library chair, reading the second book of her choice since the time we had arrived at the library. (Insert a deep, satisfying sigh of relief here.)