In this post I’m going to reflect on my experiences of libraries before I became an adult.
We had a preschool library. I don’t remember much about it, but I went back there when my little brother, 3 years my junior, was going through preschool, so I would have been early primary. I was struck, at that age, by how tiny it felt compared to when I was in pre-school. It was one room, probably the size of a standard bedroom. With books in it. We were allowed to take one book home per visit, I think. I’m not sure if it was a “proper” library. I don’t remember it being a regular part of preschool life. Maybe that room was only set up as a library a handful of times, I’m not sure.
Primary school library
It was one large, split-level room with green carpet. The entrance was on the right, and there was a section of the upper level near the entrance associated more with the infants years. There was a large open space with steps to sit on, where teachers would sit the group down to talk to, give instructions and do story time. The picture book collection was also nearby.
In the middle was the circulation desk, and a big section laid out like a classroom with groups of desks and a whiteboard at the front. Close at hand was the reference collection (though I wouldn’t have known to call it that at the time) with encyclopedias. We’d have class in the library, probably once a week, where we would go and do research projects using the encyclopedias, atlases and books.
The fiction collection was on the upper level too, where the all-important Goosebumps books could be found. On the lower level was all the non-fiction books. No computers, of course. Not sure if that was par for the course in the 90’s school library scene or not. We did have a separate computer lab (featuring 80’s computers… in the 90’s) on the other side of the school.
Also, the library books had a little orange folder taped to the inside cover, with a card inside with the due date written on it. I have no idea how that circulation system worked. As a librarian I’m glad digitization became ubiquitous before my time, otherwise those little orange envelopes would be the bane of my life. Seriously how did those cards work?
Local public library
My local library was small, not particularly cutting edge, and we didn’t go there much. It’s function in my mind was merely the place where I picked up a stack of books for the Premier’s Reading Challenge. There was a stand-up OPAC (again, terminology I learned much later) computer in the middle of the library, which I used to search for titles using a pretty basic and retro-looking interface. Standing at the circulation desk, you could see through a window into the staff office. I do have a distinct memory of curiously looking into the office at one middle aged lady, typing away at her desk, with a stack of books next to her, and thinking a library wouldn’t be such a bad place to work. It was just a passing thought, I don’t think it had significant bearing on my career – I only remembered it upon reflection just now. Foreshadowing, I suppose.
High school library
I think my affection for libraries as a place began in late high school, even though I had no ambitions to become a librarian until halfway through my undergrad degree. My interest in the Dewey Decimal system was probably higher than average for a high schooler, because I am interested in systems, and genuinely wanted to know how the books I used were organised. I would basically meditate on the poster explaining the 9 classes. I also felt the logic when browsing the shelves and seeing the numbers go up a level when the books changed topic, ever so slightly. (My favourite areas were 200s religion and spirituality, 320 politics, 750 visual arts/painting. Yeah I’m eclectic.) I still love the DDC and feel there is a certain beauty to it. Categorising all human knowledge into a logical system is such a huge and admirable task.
I spent all my free periods in the library (which I had a lot of, because I did both extension English and Maths, which ran either after school or during lunch). Actually I think that was a school rule, unless it was the last period of the day, in which case you could go home. During my frees I would use the study desks, of course, but I sometimes took time out. I have fond memories of sitting on the floor in a quiet spot behind the collection, soaking up the sunshine under the windows and reading something I’d grabbed off the shelf.
I’ll stop there. I’d go on to my uni years, but then I’d feel there’d be no logical place to stop and I’d end up trying to describe every library I’ve ever visited, ever.
It would be interesting to go back to my old libraries and see if they’re anything like I remember. I’d be curious to see how they’d changed. Hopefully no more orange envelopes.