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John Hetts @jjhetts
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1/If you love libraries, treat yourself & read this piece on life-altering impact of #publiclibraries & librarians, featuring fantastic reflections by @neilhimself @amytan & other brilliant authors/illustrators…

Go read their tales & then I’ll share...
@neilhimself @AmyTan 2/Welcome back! Their stories were amazing, #amiright? I’m not going to be able to match their powerfully resonant tales but I’ll share my favorite library as a long +1 to the importance of libraries to regular folks too & hope a few of you might share your favorite library too.
@neilhimself @AmyTan 3/So, I’d like to take a minute, just sit there please,
I’ll tell you how I fell in love with public libraries
(apologies to @djjazzyjeff215 and #TheFreshPrince and everyone reading this thread)
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 4/So this is the story all about how… (no, stop it)….

This is the story about my favorite library, by far the _biggest_ building I’ve ever experienced.

You walk in and right away, there’s a feeling - the smells of millions of pages & all the people who ever touched them.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 5/ And the sound.

The sound of the surprising absence of sound, like everyone had taken a breath right before you walked in because something amazing was about to happen and they all were all anxiously peering into future hoping to see what it was going to be.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 6/And yet there was too sound.

The sound of people being.


And the rustling.

Oh! The rustling!
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 7/ So few sounds warm me like that
-one of our babies, quietly happy
-the early spring brook behind our house
- the approaching rain wall of a thunderstorm
- a simmering stew
- a walk through a forest this time of year
-the crackle of a wood fire

and rustling books.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 8/The sound of people rustling through books, separately yet together, punctuated only by the occasional Oh! or a thrumming hmm, or a stifled guffaw. Truly one of the sounds that nourish me.

It’s the sound and energy of people without some of the noise of people.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 9/But that’s just when you enter. Now, we’re past the front desk and there they are. Rows upon rows of books, every one a fantastic, if far too fleeting, glimpse into complete other universes - whimsical, tragic, inspiring, informational, challenging, amusing, bracing….
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 10/Some all of those things, and some occasionally none of those things and yet still somehow amazingly worthwhile. Some parts of our universe that I’d never seen and would probably never see myself. Others were near universes, right next door to ours but with just a tweak.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 11/Others still were so very different so as to be difficult to imagine much less understand how they’d been imagined by someone and yet there they were. And, after you spent a little time in that imagined otherwhere, perhaps not so very different after all.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 12/And places to read them! Comfy chairs? Check. Fuzzy rugs to lay down on? Check. Sofa’s on which to share a book? You bet. Beanbags to get into just the right reading position? Yep. Chairs by the west facing windows in the maple-tree dappled light of a summer’s eve? Oh yeah.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 13/ Chairs by the radiant heat to warm your feet from the Milwaukee winter as you also warmed your soul – you betcha. Chairs tucked away in the dim, in the quietest corners of the quiet? Most definitely.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 14/ But, sadly now it’s time to leave. Wait, what’s that you say? I don’t have to just read them here? I’m allowed to borrow any of them? For free?!?

<rubbing hands gleefully> Haha, you fools! You’ve fallen victim to one of the classic blunders...
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 15/ Seriously, pulling on the long handled library door (once I could open it myself) became like pulling the lever on a slot machine, hitting all the pay lines and having books spill out into my life as I did my best to corral and catch all of them.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 16/Or maybe more like walking up as the ATM suddenly starts spitting out bills and you’re caught between the impulse of sticking around to try to grab as many as you can and the need to make a break for it before someone realizes you’re making off with all the books.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 17/Sadly, our library was much too far for me to walk, alas, so I always had to wait for a grown up to take me and was constrained by their schedule/availability.

But, on every ride, I was a little pint-sized Red at the end of Shawshank Redemption.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 18/ I was in fact so excited I could barely sit still (and usually didn’t) or hold a thought in my head.

And like Red, I also think it was the excitement only a free person can feel, a free person at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 19) Because here’s the thing. While I didn’t necessarily know where I was going to end up on that’s day journey, I always knew one thing that, as a kid, was enormously precious and exceptionally uncommon: that _I_ was going to get to choose
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 20/ I could choose thoughtfully and carefully (for that age) or I could choose randomly, or I could choose both ways but _I_ could do it.

Little ole’ me.

The most important thing I ever got on loan from the library was agency and I could borrow it for two weeks at a time.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 21/As a kid, I might not have much control over what I ate or when, when I slept or woke, where I went or when, what I wore, where or when I got to play, but at the library?

Pick whatever books you would like said the grownups.

What kind of crazy place was this library?
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 22/It’s like someone had flipped off gravity and everyone treated it as if that’s just the way it was in this building – no gravity –NBD. And I tested the heck out of their position and darned if they didn’t keep to it, letting me go anywhere and anywhen through those books.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 23/ Wise spirit guides, carefully disguised in their secret identities as librarians, would occasionally intervene to help guide me to “read that one later” when I’d wandered into age inappropriate themes, though even then they let me read “up" a surprising amount.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 24/ Other times, they might gently suggest that maybe I should only check out as many books as I could carry. Fair enough, though that quickly led me to discover the incredible power of the tote bag.

To this day, I find it hard to let go of a tote bag b/c it once carried worlds.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 25/And no one ever once made me read something there. Not once did an adult make me read some boring thing that felt like eating sand, grinding you down inside until you could stomach no more, much less write a report about it, or build a shoebox diorama about one of its themes.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 26/And the card catalogs! Someone had organized all of these books?!?!

Wanted to read more about Mars? Origami? Abraham Lincoln? Hermes? Mummies? The Grand Canyon? Hank Aaron? Unsolved Mysteries? Math puzzles? NASA? The Kit fox? A little subtle finger work & you're on your way.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 27/Or close your eyes, walk down the catalog ‘til your finger rested on a drawer and then ruffle through the drawer like a card magician to reveal a book to go find… I’d let my “fingers do the walking” (remember phone books?) and find me a new world or worlds to visit.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 28/ I lost a weekend or two as a kid to book benders started from a random walk like that.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 29/But it wasn’t just books, even back then in days of yore. If I didn’t feel like reading, I could listen to Pete Seeger sing the songs of my childhood or listen to Nicol Williamson read the Hobbit to me () again with no loss of patience whatsoever.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 30/And grownups would read to you. They’d clear out a whole area and it would fill with what felt like hundreds of kids and we’d lay down and prop our heads up on our hands. And they would hold our attention fast, like we’d been carefully secured to the ground in front of them.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 31/Pin drop, hanging on every word attention to a dramatic performance of Three Billy Goats Gruff or Tikki Tikki Tembo or something as short & simple as Whose Mouse Are You? or serial readings f/Beverly Clearly or Judy Blume. (& every once in a while that grownup was my dad!)
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 32/Kids walking by with their parents on their way to/from the shelves would be inextricably snared like hair to flypaper when someone opened a window. And just as surely, trying to tear them way was going to cause a lot of crying and maybe even some hair loss.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 33/ I could and did get lost there, it was so big. Well, sort of lost. I was never lost _to me_ - I always knew where I was - but I was effectively lost to everyone else.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 34/Eventually, someone would track me down to find me tucked in a space at the end of a bookshelf reading something I’d run into.

Or, more commonly, trapped deep in the stacks having accumulated too many books to carry but unwilling to leave any of them behind.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 35/When I went to college, my family moved further away from our library so I hadn’t been back in more than thirty years. (Discovery of the entirety of the college library and how it nearly ended my college career multiple times is a different story for another time).
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 36/ Then, this summer, my last surviving aunt downsized, moving, as it turns out, just down the street from our library. And so, on my last visit, there it was after all these years. Renovated, yes, but unquestionably our library.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 37/ And it was _small_ - I couldn’t believe how small.

In my experience, our library was the size and had all the grandeur of the main branch of @MilwaukeePubLib, though perhaps with somewhat less impressive architecture.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 38/ But it wasn’t quite that size as it turns out. Not close.

My deeply beloved library, a cornerstone of my childhood and my adult self, is the far more unassuming Tippecanoe branch:…

(built, as it turns out, just a year before I was born)
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 39/But it was only small until I went inside and, then there it was. The largest building I had ever known, big as ever. It’s been renovated but that incredibly large space was indelibly there, somehow shoehorned inside a little building at the corner of Howell and Howard.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 40/Going back inside, I understood one clear place where stories of magic portals, of rooms impossibly large for their physical space, of books that are actual gateways to other worlds, of wizened mentors/guides with magical powers come from. They’re libraries.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 41/ And I understood the restorative power of a place, the ability to step back into the younger version of yourself, to feel years shake off like dust. We never find out whether the ocean was as blue as in Red’s dreams, to this day, our library remains just as big as in mine.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 42/ The size of it was the same. It had to be to hold it all – dreams and fears, pasts and futures, progress and setbacks, worlds upon worlds, and the collective thoughts and imaginations of hundreds of thousands, honed over billions of hours of effort & shared with each of us.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 43/ And trillions upon trillions of still and yet crackling moments of engagement between two people’s thoughts across time and space.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 44/ It couldn’t be any smaller because it had to be big enough to contain it’s tremendous heart, at the center of which remained the quiet, steadfast stewards of all of it, its librarians - our librarians – still carefully maintaining their disguises all these years later
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 45/ Oh, they had new modern disguises but I recognized them immediately. And they were still there delivering new kids to new worlds a book (or a dozen or so) at a time.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 46/ Now, I was a (reasonably) well-behaved child (most of the time) so I always (okay, nearly always) thanked the librarians whenever they helped me or checked me out but I had no idea just what I should be thanking them for. How could I have known?
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 47/So, If any librarian has happened to read this far into this thread meandering through some of the fondest of my childhood memories at @MilwaukeePubLib, let me say to you directly, sitting there reading this, thank you.

From the rooftops, truly, madly, deeply, THANK _YOU_.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 48/And to my parents and all the other adults that took me to the biggest little building in the world (and to any other grownups taking your kids to libraries currently who may or may not always articulate it), thank you too.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib 49/And sincerest thank you also to the spirit guides, er, librarians of University City @UCPL_Librarians & Webster Groves @wgpl & Fullerton @fpl & Orange County @ocpublib who every day built the foundations of the biggest buildings my children have ever known.
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib @UCPL_Librarians @wgpl @fpl @ocpublib 50/As I wrap up, I have to fess up and admit that I lied at the beginning of the thread.

Not about the size of the Tippecanoe Branch of @MilwaukeePubLib.

That’s still the biggest building I have ever known (best step off, Boeing Everett Factory:…).
@neilhimself @AmyTan @djjazzyjeff215 @MilwaukeePubLib @UCPL_Librarians @wgpl @fpl @ocpublib 51/51 But it’s not technically my favorite library. They’re _all_ my favorite. Anywhere I find a place where people have come together to preserve and make available books and more, especially for children and students, that -that- will always be my favorite place in the world.
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