Libraries, oh, Libraries…

The masjid, a halal grocery store, and the library. Those were the three things we would look up whenever we moved from state to state here in the United States. Food for the spiritual, the physical, and the intellect. I have to be honest. I can’t imagine living without easy access to a well equipped library. Thinking back to my childhood, I just realized why.uapl

When we were in Ames, Iowa, there was only one library, which was situated downtown. Despite my love for libraries, I never actually set foot in it until years later of living in that small university town. In fact, I probably only went there two or three times in the course of four years. How did my reading habit survive?

Well, the bookmobile. The good ole bookmobile. Every Friday afternoon, the bookmobile would come to University Village, and park itself next to the laundromat and the playground. I needed only go online, put a hold on books or video cassettes I wanted, and get them on Fridays, without ever having to drive all the way downtown, which by the way, would only take about 10 -15 minutes. I very rarely drove back then, but my bookish life was rich nonetheless.

In Athens, Georgia, I began to develop wings. I was no longer breastfeeding and was relatively freer to move around the kids’ naptime. My youngest then was a toddler, and we had bought a new van, that didn’t have the annoying and embarrassing problem of a clutch that had to be stepped on all the way back (which unfortunately I couldn’t do easily due to the length of my leg and the unaccommodating driver’s seat). So I drove around town a lot, by myself, with the kids, to Jo Ann, to the library. In fact, when I had too much of the kids, I made a deal with hubby. Every Saturday, I was to have two hours off by myself, to regain my sanity, while he stayed with the kids. I spent those two hours at the library. It was pure bliss! Some people go window shopping or shopping to reduce stress. I go to the library. I don’t know if this is some form of reenactment of my childhood days, for I did spend a lot of my childhood lost in the worlds created by Enid Blyton, oblivious to the happenings around me. But being surrounded by books do comfort and excite me. My comfort food if you will.

In Columbus, there are a variety of libraries, and the kids and I really relish it. With a limit of 100 items per card, we really, and I mean, really, took advantage of this. We have received remarks from the librarian such as,

“Wow, that’s even longer than a grocery list!”

as she neatly retrieved our lengthy check out receipt and folded it neatly into a thick wad of paper that I would add to my recyclable grocery list papers, arranged neatly in my kitchen utensil drawer.

To support our greedy habit of checking out as much as we could, we have had two ‘library bags’ over the years, and the one we’ve been using these past few years, is now rendered almost unusable. The zipper no longer works because the wheeled bag has always been packed. The canvas covering is torn. It has served us well, and we have really, and again, I mean, really, packed it to death with books. I am surprised it lasted this long.

Growing up, my father always took me to the Lake Club’s children’s library, usually after school. I remember always being embraced in awe and joy every time I set foot in the small yet rich library, with a librarian that had a look alike twin sister (which in itself was a source of enigma and childhood curiosity). I loved that little library. I guess I never realized that I have always been attracted to libraries because I practically grew up in it. And when the library wasn’t able to fulfill my need for more reading material, my father brought us to Singapore, where used books were pretty cheap. Though I would finish reading them before we reached the hotel, from the store. As a teenager, my reading habit survived via used books too.

Recently, I asked around about libraries in Malaysia. I googled them. I found the website of the main National Library in Kuala Lumpur. Sorry, not impressive. My mother said she misses the library here. She practically said libraries in Malaysia are no good. That we would probably have to go to the British Council or American embassy if we want to find good collections of books. I was crestfallen. How would I live? How would I satisfy my craving for books? How would I feed my need to be surrounded by an ongoing flow of fresh free books?

I asked around. I pondered. I wondered. I compared. And I forced myself to dig wide and deep, exhausting whatever avenues I have access to from across the ocean. Make do. Make the best of the situation. That was my line of thinking. The people I asked said they buy books. From my perspective,

No! Buy? No!

But I forced myself to see it from that perspective. Not easy.

But, little by little, I am able to somewhat accept it. My ‘asking around’ finally landed on a gold mine; a fellow reader. Secondhand bookstores. Tax deductibles. Keep purchase receipts. I didn’t know that! Well, now I do, and from the list of bookstores that was presented to me, I feel a sense of relief, somewhat.

I guess, if I can’t have an abundance of well equipped libraries like we do here, I’ll deal with an abundance of secondhand bookstores. Or, as hubby suggested,

“Go work at MPH. But you’ll probably get fired.”

“Why?” I asked.

But even before he answered, I said,

“Because I’ll be reading the books instead of manning the store.”

And we both nodded.

I should have been a librarian. Libraries, oh, libraries…

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