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The Children's Library

monkey pirate
This morning I woke up early, looked around, saw the dog, the cat, the wife, the unborn daughter all still deep in sleep, and did my best to drift back to sleep. As my thoughts wandered in a disordered, shambolic but good-natured stream, I had a sudden, strong and very lucid sense of being in a huge children's library - vaulted ceiling, shelves upon shelves of brightly colored books, cheerful carpets with toys and kid-sized furniture scattered around the empty spots like seeds tossed in a furrow of fertile earth.

And imagining that scent, the scent of a room full of old and well-loved books, it brought me back to the Wolfson Memorial Library. It had a huge downstairs library for children, and attached room full of young adult books. My mom used to take my sisters and I there at least weekly, and I poured over every one of its stacks, many time, mining out every book that I might read. That's where I found L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz books, the Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, and so many others.

I realized it had been way too long since I'd been in a room full of old books. Just Saturday I was in a book store, but it's not the same, new books don't have the same scent, the same aura at all - there's something about the thumbed over pages and broken spines, the card-catalog inserts and dewey decimal labels that make a library a special place, as near to sacred to me in both mind and heart.

Years ago the Wolfson was closed and moved to a community center that also includes the police station. The old building was for a while sold to some folks who had the sort of kooky but sort of cool idea to turn it into a permanent Renn Faire sort of place; they started a faux-medieval "tavern" in what was once the kids' library, and intended to use the upstairs as a combination performance center and knick-knack shop. Unfortunately it wasn't terribly well executed, the concrete building blocks were painted over and given an amateurish veneer to look like a wattle-and-daub wall. The menu at the restaurant was just meatball subs, fried mozzarella and frozen pizza slices, the kind of stuff you'd get at a snack bar. But a girl I knew was determined to see that crazy idea succeed, and so she'd bring along a wool cloak in her car, and every day on her lunch break drive over to the old library and get her lunch there.

On one hand, I loved the idea of such a creative, nerdy place...but putting it in the library that had been the portal to so many worlds, adventures and explorations - a surer guide to the universe than any TARDIS - seemed like an ignominious end to a noble career. Unsurprisingly the attempt didn't succeed, and not too long after they closed. I don't know what happened to the building after that - what is it today? Was it just knocked down and replaced with something modern and tedious?

I wish I could go back to that place today. At least I know before too long I'll have good reason to visit a children's library just as often, I can't imagine any child of mine not being a reader. I just have to find one here, in my new home, or wherever I fetch up, washed by the tides of fate.

And I know this - I need to smell some old books, and soon.

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