‘Libraries, You Are My Heroes’: Readers Share Memories of a Favorite Haven

When you publish a story about public libraries, you know you’re going to hear from people. As we showed in a recent photo essay, “A Love Letter to Libraries, Long Overdue,” these are communal spaces belonging to all of us, so it makes sense that readers would have strong feelings about them. If we published an article about your living room, you’d have thoughts too. And we’d want to hear them!

First, it must be said: Writers and editors tend to approach comment sections gingerly, the way a beleaguered parent might peek into a playroom, unsure of what to expect. Will we encounter silence? A melee? Jubilant harmony?

On the subject of libraries, the final scenario applies. Most readers who commented on the piece agreed that book borrowing is a good thing and that librarians are the versatile, resourceful and creative people we know them to be.

Of course, we heard from people who feel that their libraries are too loud and too crowded. There was an energetic debate about whether or not audiobooks stick with a reader as reliably as the printed word does; as always, the listeners won. Two librarians resisted the “shushing” stereotype. They had a point.

But overall, the 770 responses added up to a warm tidal wave of adoration for libraries and all they represent: freedom, independence, adventure, exploration, experimentation, ideas, ingenuity and so much more. A number of readers recalled getting dumped at their local branch on a summer morning and becoming bookworms out of sheer boredom (we see you, Gen X). People of all ages waxed poetic about going to the library with parents, grandparents, siblings, babysitters and teachers. We heard about first library cards, timely book recommendations, pandemic book deliveries, libraries as portals to another world, libraries as safe spaces, libraries with cats, libraries where readers fell in love.

We could go on. Instead we picked a few of our favorite comments and edited them for length and clarity. We present them here for your reading pleasure.

A cubby of your own? It’s available at the Northtown Branch Library.Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Patrons reminisced about time well spent.

“The day I was allowed to borrow books from sections other than the children’s area will live on in my memory. I had to bring a note from home that it was OK to let me read these books for older people, but I had read everything in the kids’ area. I was 7.” — Carolyn Coleman Dillon, Gary, Ind.

“When I was 9 or 10, I was playing down at the creek (small-town upbringing in the 1950s) and I found what was to me a huge turtle. I took the poor thing and ran all the way to the library and asked the librarian for a book about turtles. Did she tell me to get that disgusting creature out of the library? No, she did not. She found me a book about turtles, and I went home very happy and excited about my new pet. I’m pretty sure my mother made me put him back in the creek. My first library research experience!” — Patrice Marcks, Riverside, Calif.

“Here’s to the Berea (Ohio) Public Library and the limitless lending policy that would allow a 12-year-old all the books he could carry. The best book of all time though was William Pene du Bois’s ‘The Twenty-One Balloons’ (yeah, long before our current balloon obsession) and we were off to Krakatoa, diamonds as big as the Ritz and adventures galore.” — Joseph A. Kopec, Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

“I discovered a new world when, as a 12-year-old, I checked out the ‘West Side Story’ cast recording. Listening to it today brings back some of my happiest childhood memories.” — Luz Reyes, San Diego

“When I was in middle school my mom had to work late on Wednesdays; walking from just a few blocks up Main Street, I spent most Wednesday afternoons in the library doing my homework until my mom came to pick me up. Though I could have gone to one of the study rooms, I continuously returned to the children’s room to be with the librarian, Bonnie, who had been there since I was very small. She knew me, and if she didn’t, she pretended well enough that I felt safe and happy there. Now in college in Massachusetts, libraries still feel like home. Despite being much larger than they were in my small hometown, there is a sense of familiarity in the space. I love libraries, you are my heroes.” — Talia Feinsod, New Paltz, N.Y.

“Raising four children on a very limited budget, the library was a haven. It was the one place we could all go and not spend a dime, but be filled with everything we needed for our minds and spirits.” — Stephanie Stauber, Highlands Ranch, Colo.

“I travel six months of the year in my R.V. One of the first things I do when entering a new place is check out its library. I have never found one I didn’t like. Same for every one of the hundreds of librarians.” — James Taylor, Buenos Aires

In Littleton, Colo., bookworms of all ages gathered outside the Edwin A. Bemis Public Library to hear a story read by Donna Stephenson, a children’s librarian, as part of the weekly Books & Blankets program.Credit…David Williams for The New York Times

Librarians and their champions felt seen.

“I chose librarianship 50 years ago … or shall I say, librarianship chose me, and all these years later I still feel it’s been a perfect match. I’ve worked in public libraries, a rare-book library, a busy N.Y.C. medical center library, a university library and in the library in a boys’ school. Each experience was wonderful in its special way. This article is truly a love letter to libraries. The photographs made me smile. And the text really gets at what makes libraries the greatest of places. It was the perfect thing to wake up to on this Valentine’s Day. Thank you.” — Susan Levine, West Nyack, N.Y.

“As a children’s and school librarian for the past 25 years, I thank you for showing the incredible humanity of our work and spaces.” — Lara Ingham, Oberursel, Germany

“My entire life so far has centered around libraries. When I was 8, I learned from the weeping librarians in my local branch library that President Kennedy died. That library was my refuge and the books there opened a window into other worlds and ideas. In college, I worked in the library as a student worker. After other jobs, I worked in a community college library until I went to library school and earned my master’s in library science. I worked for over 30 years as an academic research librarian. It was in that library in 2001, preparing to teach an info literacy class on Islam, that I learned about the World Trade Center attacks. Now I work as a substitute librarian in local public libraries. In all those libraries the best thing were the library patrons who needed my help or wanted to tell me their stories. How lucky am I?” — Patricia Mardeusz, Williston, Vt.

“I serve on the library board for my city, and find that our library staff understands the community more deeply than any policymakers. No one recognized we have a burgeoning community of Ethiopian immigrants until one of our library branches started stocking books in Amharic!” — Abby Arnold, Santa Monica, Calif.

“As a trustee of my local library, I thank you very much for this piece! Librarians are, truly, defenders of civilization.” — Jonathan J. Margolis, Brookline, Mass.

This reader summed it up best.

“What other single institution can do so much good?” — Liz Kidera, Crystal Lake, Ill.

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