Paradise Lost? Be Careful, Or Your Library Could Disappear. . .

Recently I had the pleasure of driving through the neighborhood where I grew up.  Trips into the past are always bittersweet.  Show me a slide-show and I wouldn’t be able to pick out the tiny one-story house where I spent most of my childhood. Pink and gray shingles have been covered with dark wood.  The back has sprouted a two-story deck, which raises my curiosity.  For a better view of sunsets?  To spy on the neighbors?  Despite this, the house is now one of the nicest on the street, while the neighborhood itself has declined.  Emerald green St. Augustine grass has been replaced by sand, and the lush shrubbery I remember is, for the most part just a memory.  Clearly this area, like so much of Florida and the rest of the country, has fallen prey to a weak economy and climate change.

I didn’t visit one of my favorite places.  I was five when I got my first library card.  The Gulfport Public Library–the present version pictured here–was too far to walk, and my mother never learned to drive.  We went when friends or relatives invited us, but I got there whenever I could and always checked out the six books I was allowed.

Had I been given permission, I would have moved into the children’s room and later the adult section.  I would have wiled away my nights randomly choosing books from the shelves, or inserting cards into the antique stereopticon viewer and taking random trips around the world through the eyes of another century.  I remember the musty odor of the books, the precise place where the first edition Oz series was kept for all to enjoy.  Next time I’m in town, maybe I’ll visit the newest incarnation and see how familiar it seems.

I know from your many emails how important libraries are to you.  Many of you rely on libraries to read my books.  Were you forced to buy every novel you wanted, you would quickly go broke.  I understand.  When a library buys my books for their shelves, I’ve made a sale, and hopefully new readers have discovered me. 

Unfortunately libraries, like my childhood neighborhood, have also fallen on hard times.  Recently I’ve received steadily  escalating pleas to help libraries all across the country.  The most recent came from Oregon.  A library structure must be replaced, so would I send an autographed book, contribute a recipe or make a donation?  Authors are no longer just the voices on library shelves, we are now being asked to keep the doors open, too. 

Do a Google search. Type in “save local library.”   See how many hits you receive.  Libraries in LA, Chicago, New York, even England and everywhere in between are in trouble.  My own library system has cut hours and employees.  What about yours?

Authors are generous, and many of us are responding to these requests, but we all know it will take more than a few autographed novels.  So what can we do together? 

For starters, my Google search turned up a concise, helpful article from the Good Culture site.   Take a moment and zip through it.  I bet there’s something there you could do to help your own library.  Start locally.  I’ll be donating books and money to all the libraries in my life.  That makes the most sense to me since I can donate more books and pay less postage. Imagine a world without your local library.  It’s unthinkable, isn’t it?

While you’re considering how best to help, will you share with us here a memory of a library that helped turn you on to reading?  Nothing is a greater catalyst to change than good memories.  Let’s all remember together then let’s get busy.

***Just a quick note on another subject.  Some of you have asked for an email address where you can send your requests for more Shenandoah Album novels.  I’ve just been told this is the right place:


  1. Cathy Leitner on February 1, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Emelie, Reading your blog opened that far away memory in my brain of my childhood and the downtown St. Petersburg Library. My sister worked downtown, so during the summer I would go with her to work, then spend the morning at the library. I would walk to the library by myself (this would be unheard of today!and spend the morning carefully picking out two books to read, returning the books from last week! I too remember the musty smell of the books, but it was such an awesome friendly smell, one that drew me back each week. I would return to my sister’s work, have lunch with her at the big department store, Maas Brother’s! Then go back with her, make myself comfortable and start reading. By the way the books always were about nurses, I am now a pediatric nurse!
    As a teenager I would go th the “new” library to study and do research, reading for pleasure seamed to stop, but always in the back of my mind.
    As a young mother, the library popped up again, introducing it to my children. They always enjoyed picking out books, but I seemed to buy a lot of books and they enjoyed that too.
    Now as a Grandmother I have enjoyed going with my toddler Grandchildren to the library and all the activities they have for children! Wow was I surprised! When we drive by the now many library extensions, they always want to go in.
    Their Mother now works at the Eckerd Collage Library.
    I too hope the libraries never go away….
    Thanks for jogging this memory for me!

  2. MaryAnn on February 1, 2011 at 10:20 am

    I spent a lot of time at the library when I was young. The mom of one of by friends was the town librarian (was then and still is a small one room branch in our county system). When my daughter was only one or so we started our weekly visits to that same little branch. When she was maybe four the librarian there accepted a position in the main branch and asked if I might be interested in working at our little branch. I was so I applied at her suggestion. I’ve been there six years now. I do worry, being the smallest branch when the time will come that they will have no choice but to close it. Does the thought of having the librarian write your name or card number on a card in the book and putting in some sort of due date card bring back a memory? My branch is small enough I still do that! No automation beyond using the region library catalog that all patrons have access to.

  3. Suzy Greenhalgh on February 1, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Oh so sad to hear that our old neighborhood has changed so much. Think it’s been 20 years since I’ve been back, without the relatives to visit it’s hard to find a reason to go back. Would love to go back to walk or ride bikes through our old haunts. Would not have recognized the Gulfport Library from the photo.

    Libraries are so very important to all of us. There’s nothing better than holding a real book or reading a real newspaper. Too much to be missed by the “eworld” to my old mind.

    • Emilie Richards on February 1, 2011 at 2:57 pm

      I should have driven down your street, Suzy. I missed it on this trip. Boca Ciega looks so different. They’re doing extensive renovations, but I think it’s going to be great when it’s all done. And yes, a very different library.

  4. Denise on February 1, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I don’t know that I have a favorite library memory from MY childhood- I always enjoyed going and checking out books, feeling so grown-up! 🙂 I did enjoy taking my children to story hour and look forward to taking my grandchildren to story hour, too. I know my children always loved checking out books and spending hours cuddled up on the couch or on their beds reading, a very treasured part of childhood! 🙂

  5. Kathy Cogan-Neavill on February 1, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    When I was a teenager back in the early 1960’s our librarian was a little, unsmiling, pinch faced lady that scared me. When I had my first real boyfriend he said I want to take you to meet my mother. If that didn’t make me nervous, the next hour made up for it. We drove over to the library and he introduced me to the one and same librarian who always scared me! Thank goodness our romance only lasted a few months.

  6. Nancy Badertscher on February 2, 2011 at 12:34 am

    My earliest memory is of the public library in my hometown, Johnson City, TN. I mostly remember to intoxicating smell of old wood and books – the main ones I remember checking out were the Vicki Barr, Flight Stewardess ones, because I wanted to be a stewardess. Only later did I find out at that time you couldn’t wear glasses so that let me out. That building is still there, but is now part of the church that was next door to it. Wonder if it still has the same fragrance.
    I also have great inspiring memories of the librarian at my school – a “training school” for the college in JC – where all 12 grades were in one building. The librarian there must have had all those little orange Childhood of Famous Americans series – with the black silhouettes on the front. She was the person I decided I wanted to be when I grew up, since I couldn’t be a stewardess. I went on to that college, where I worked for $.50/hr being a runner in the stacks because the stacks were closed to the undergraduates – can you imagine such a thing now days??
    After getting a masters degree in library science at Peabody (now part of Vanderbilt) in Nashville, I went on to work in 9 different libraries, including back at Vanderbilt where I met my current husband, who is also a retired librarian.
    As a librarian I think my best memories came from my last job before retirement in a middle school library. I so well remember the excitement on the faces of the students as they watching in amazement while I opened the boxes with multiple copies of the Harry Potter books when the 3rd one had just been published. Having moved to the middle school from the high school in Lexington, VA, I knew that they would not be encouraged to read for fun at the high school, so I wanted to feed them as much as possible of the good stuff before they left me! The other great memory from that school were the book clubs I helped with when we had students who loved reading and were willing to share their thoughts and feelings about the reading we did. Good times!

  7. Kay Myhrman-Toso on February 2, 2011 at 11:11 am

    My earliest memories involve weekly Saturday trips to the library with my mother; getting my first library card – cardboard with a little metal insert; and experiencing the same hushed feeling upon entering the library that I experienced when entering church! Once I reached 3rd grade, my cousin & I were allowed to bike the 2+ miles to the branch library. A perfect summer day meant two trips to the library in one day. We’d arrive when the library opened, check out our maximum number of books – I think it was six, then bike home to read on the shady front porch with frequent breaks for Kool-Aid and chocolate chip cookies. If we’d finished all six books, we’d head back to the library for 6 more books…so we could have a head start for the next day!

    A move to a hotter more humid climate brought a new library & yet another reason to love spending time there. In the era before air conditioning became commonplace, the thick walls of this old Carnegie library meant that its rooms were a cool haven on a hot summer’s day. Not that I needed motivation to read!

    I am grateful to the many ways library books gave me a window to a world beyond my community. I am grateful to librarians from my childhood who took the time to explain the card catalog (remember that?) and who recommended books and authors that became favorites. I continue to be grateful for the library – though now I can search for materials while sitting at my computer in my PJ’s! I use this feature so often that I have memorized my 14 digit library card number, simply from frequent use. While one can now check out CDs or DVDs, in addition to books, use a computer to search the Internet, and take classes on all sorts of subjects, to me the heart of what is so valuable about the library remains the librarians. I’m still grateful for their book recommendations: this is how I first discovered Emilie’s books!

  8. Emilie Richards on February 3, 2011 at 10:25 am

    These are wonderful memories, and I’m grateful to everybody who is sharing.

  9. HeyJudee on February 6, 2011 at 2:47 am

    I grew up in the Eastern Townships in Southern Quebec, Canada. We had no town library and I didn’t know what a real library was. One day when I was at school (don’t remember which grade) we were told that a bookmobile would be arriving. The bookmobile was a travelling library from McGill University. It travelled around to the various English schools through out Quebec. When it arrived, each class would be given a time to go to the bookmobile and checkout library books (max. 10) which we would keep until the next visit by the bookmobile. This is when I discovered my love of reading and the volume and variety of books that existed in the world. It was amazing to me. In my high school days I discovered Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austin, Anya Seton, Georgette Heyer and many more. That bookmobile impacted my life and I am forever grateful for that. Unfortunately the bookmobile stopped travelling to schools not long after I graduated back in the 1960s and there is still no town library. But over the years the schools in my home town have grown and setup their own libraries where other children and teens can discover the world of books.

    • Emilie Richards on February 6, 2011 at 8:48 am

      I’m so glad the bookmobile was part of your past, and sad it was discontinued. What do adults in the community do when they want to read a book?

  10. HeyJudee on February 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    The adults have to buy their books from book stores, drug stores, stores like Walmart, Zellers, etc. and mostly buy paperbacks. Unfortunately there are less and less places to buy English books in QC. But people are more mobile today than when I grew up and often travel to the larger cities like Sherbrooke or Montreal where they have book stores to buy books with a greater variety. And there are second hand stores which are often reselling books and everyone is becoming more internet savy and buying online.

    I now live near a large city with lots of places to buy new or used books. My uncle in his late 70’s is an avid reader and I usually pass all my books on to him. When he finishes them he gives them back to me to pass along to others. Now I have joined the masses and bought an ereader and love it. But since I can’t pass these on to my uncle and he is not part of the connected generation and does not have the funds or access to buy books, I find I am going to used bookstores and buying books specifically for him. Of course I don’t tell him that…I just say that I haven’t had time to read them yet so will read them when he gives them back to me…and that stack of unread books is growing LOL. But this is my way of sharing the love of reading with him.

    • Emilie Richards on February 6, 2011 at 2:46 pm

      That’s a very kind thing to do, and I’m sure it makes him so happy. Instead of sending flowers when my aunt had surgery recently I called Mystery Lovers Bookstore in PA, a great mystery indie store, and asked them to choose three books to send her while she recuperates. It’s so easy to forget what joy books can give. And they last longer than any bouquet (not that I don’t like getting flowers.)

  11. Jacqui VMS on February 9, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    I can’t remember for sure how old I was when I got my first library card, but I remember the thrill of walking in the old Public library in my town in SW Ontario, Canada. The old hardwood floors creaked and it smelled like a library :-). I was an avid reader, but read mostly Dutch books as that was my first language. We would walk to the library on Saturday mornings, but when I was in grade 7 I got my first bicycle and then I could get there much faster :-).

    This past summer my husband and I sorted out our 7 large bookshelves and donated 200 of them to the library book sale :-). I can so identify with the feeling of being able to find my books again…but they are filling up again! Books are like friends to me too and I re-read my books quite regularly…some of my favourite books I’ve read at least 15 times!

  12. Lee Ann on February 10, 2011 at 4:28 am

    I grew up in the country, about 20 miles from the nearest town with a library. The bookmobile would come down our road and park about 1/4 mile from our home and blow the horn! My library card was a paper one with a little metal bar in the corner. The driver didn’t care if we misplaced our card or forgot where it was on that trip. She would write our names and road down and still let us check out books. As a little girl back then it was such a thrill. That bookbomile was like heaven, it could take you anywhere.

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