Public Libraries and Heaven

Amy J. Devitt, Ph.D.
5 min readApr 13, 2018


In honor of National Library Week

Carnegie Library c. 1920, Whitby Archives, flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I love public libraries, so I’m taking advantage of national library week to tell my personal tale of public libraries.

When I was a youngster, the local public library (an original Carnegie library) was a second home to me. I remember every bit of that place, where my mom would drop me off on Saturday morning and return to pick me up sometime later Saturday afternoon (whether I remember that schedule accurately or not is a question, of course, but that’s what it felt like, happily).

The library was at the front of a city park with a playground, but I don’t remember spending much time in the playground. Even when it was time for mom to pick me up, I don’t remember rushing to play on the swings.

Instead, I remember sitting on the ledge of the stone steps, my back resting against the big stone lion, reading my new book treasures until she arrived. (When I made a return to my hometown as an adult, I discovered the lions were nowhere near as huge as I’d remembered them, but they loom high over me protectively in my memory.)

ohn Carrel, Carnegie Library lion, flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Instead of the playground, I spent my time in the library itself. That’s where I discovered my first categories of books — adults’ books and children’s books. At my library, those two types of books were separated physically. To reach adult books, you climbed those massive stone steps and walked through a pair of massive wood doors (remember, this is my childhood memory of it) to the adult reading room and shelves, with huge windows and tall ceilings and many wood tables and chairs for sitting and reading.

My kids’ books were in the small lower level underneath the adult library. To reach the kids’ library, you went down a flight of small cement steps on the side of the building, through a tiny door, into a dark, dank basement-feeling room with little natural light (if any?). Inside, you found a librarian at a desk in front, and tightly packed shelves of children’s books.

It was heaven.

I spent hours scouring those shelves for reading delights, checking out just as many books as the library allowed. Almost all of mine were fiction, if I remember right. As the years passed, I had read more and more of those books downstairs (I don’t even remember asking about new books, though I do remember the librarian helping me find new things to read).

Until the wondrous day I remember well, when the children’s librarian suggested I go upstairs to the adult library to find new books to check out.

But I couldn’t do that!! I wasn’t old enough! I would be breaking the rules!!!!!

It’s okay, the librarian assured me. I don’t remember if she said I should bring the books down to her to check out (which would have been tough for the rule-following me since I would have had to walk out the adult library doors with an armful of un-checked-out books like any ordinary book thief!) or if she talked to the adult librarian on my behalf or, horrors, if the rule never was actually enforced! I had always known that I couldn’t go upstairs, that the adult books were off-limits to me until I hit the required age.

I also don’t remember whether a librarian helped me find adult books that were still what they would call today “age-appropriate,” but clearly I wasn’t looking for AGE appropriate books. I was ready for the ADULT books!

It was heaven.

Today, I read some of my books on a kindle and some from my own shelves, but I still love going into the local public library. Often now I hear about a book that sounds interesting, I go online, and I reserve a copy from the library’s website. When it’s my turn for the book, the library emails me to let me know, and I can go straight to the reserve shelves to pick up and then check out the one or two books they’re holding for me.

But I don’t do that. Instead, after picking up the books on hold, I go to the New Books shelves at the front, and I browse. Fiction and nonfiction both for me, these days. I read titles, pull out interesting-looking ones, pick up ones a librarian has featured on a rack. All these books hold worlds I could open. All these delights available free of charge, for me. And I’m old enough to check out any of them!

It’s heaven.

Even now as I use my town’s own brand new, LEED certified and architecture award-winning window-filled bright and airy public library (formerly housed in a still-standing Carnegie building, but well before my time), and even then when I had finally entered the light-filled world of the real adult library, my original experience with the basement children’s library brings me the most joy.

Because books.

And because libraries.

I hope you all have access to a public library, that you visit it in person some times, and that you go exploring among the wealth of books on those shelves.

Happy national library week! And happy reading

New Lawrence Public Library, Wikimedia commons

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Amy J. Devitt, Ph.D.

Writer, teacher, researcher, optimist. I explore language & everyday genres to help people see & choose the language & genres they use.