“Libraries raised me.” —Ray Bradbury
When the good citizens of the small Massachusetts town, Lancaster (founded in 1653), decided to build a memorial for the 39 home town soldiers killed in the Civil War, they built “a free public library, with well-laden shelves, a reading-room, and needful appliances.” (Little did the founding fathers know, that “needful appliances” would include computers some 125 years later.)
Rather than a statue to honor them, the town’s citizens felt a Library would better commemorate the soldiers’ sacrifices.
I lived in Lancaster for about three years during my girlhood, and once a week, my mother would take my brother and me to the Thayer Memorial Library. It was a sturdy brick building, with large floor-to-ceiling windows. Bookcases lined the walls of the first floor and the walls of the second floor balcony, which was reached by a spiral staircase. Large round wooden tables were scattered throughout the Library…you could spread your books out and gaze at them, thumbing through the pages.
My favorite books included a series with “Little Maid,” in the title (A little Maid of Massachusetts Colony, A Little Maid of Bunker Hill, A Little Maid of Mohawk Valley, etc,). No, these were not books about household servants but a series of historical novels about little girls who helped fight the revolutionary war.
In these books, little girls carried secret messages to generals, helped capture English privateers, and served as spies. Of course, they performed these duties all while being impeccably dressed in pretty dresses with pinafores, and in their high button boots. Those little girls could accomplish anything, and I almost believed the Revolutionary War wouldn’t have been won without their efforts.
Memorials to fallen soldiers come in many guises, but I can’t think of a better one, than a “free public library,” to the town’s future residents. I didn’t know the names of the solders but their sacrifice resulted in a gift that was immeasurable: light-filled rooms full of books, which fostered my imagination and a life-long love of books.
I encountered librarians who didn’t mind a small girl asking loads of questions, and who helped me choose the “best” books.
As Ray Bradbury said in the opening quote; “libraries raised me.” And I can’t think of a better parent.
(National Library Week is April 9-15, 2017)