As difficult as it is for some of you to believe, I was a painfully shy child. I wasn’t smart enough to be a nerd or an egghead, nor was I pretty enough to be the girl everyone wanted to befriend. I always was nagged by the disquieting feeling of not fitting in socially, scholastically or even domestically. The oldest of three children, I was eclipsed by a sweet-natured, runway-pretty sister and a devil-may-dare, “boys will be boys” younger brother.
Forever tagged with the encouragement to “be a good girl and help your mother”, I didn’t really have a place where I could just be me, or even discover who “me” was. Until I found the public library.
Even today, the library feels like home to me. Not as musty and dusty as it was in my younger days, it still feels like hallowed ground and as though, with enough time to absorb the environment, I can leave feeling decades younger than when I walk in.
It was at the library, among the hushed whispers and soft crackling of turning pages, that I discovered what it’s like to feel smart.
It was there that I committed myself to learning at least one new word per visit — how to spell the word, what its meaning was and how to use it in a complete sentence.
At the library, I was surrounded by great writers and great thinkers. I became friends with Tennessee Williams and Margaret Mitchell.
Edgar Allen Poe taught me that weird can be wise and that emotional madness can be therapeutic.
Through the years, I added many brilliant minds to my list of friends who communicated with me through the printed word and I took their secrets — many more than I think they intended to share — and guarded them like they were my own. I took the little pieces of them that they lost with every word they wrote and used those pieces to strengthen myself.
By high school, I still didn’t qualify for a nerd or egghead label, nor was I any prettier than before, but I was charismatic enough to attract more friends than just my writing buddies at the library.
I’d already read, and in some cases practically memorized, the assigned reading in English literature: Keats, Shakespeare, Byron, “Catcher in the Rye,” “Moby Dick” and “The Scarlet Letter.” That fact, plus an uncanny ability to make a whole lot of nothing read like a whole lot of something, made me the go-to girl in English lit.
The library of my youth is long gone now. The sacred ground is now home to an elaborate amusement theme park. Even if it were still there, it would have changed, as libraries across the country have changed.
No longer limited to paper pages and bound backs, libraries are redefining themselves using multiple platforms and reinventing themselves as the gateway to universal knowledge.
This is National Library Week. Take your inner child out to the place where everyone, even painfully shy children, can feel smart and right at home.
Linda Brown is marketing director for The Ottawa Herald. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org