Towering bookcases. Shelves for miles. That smell you'll never forget as long as you'll live. Whether you were a library latch key kid like me or just spent a ton of time in the stacks 'cause your family scheduled field trips to the hallowed halls, you know that if you practically grew up in a library, you had a pretty privileged — and OK, kind of different — upbringing in many ways.
If you looked at my childhood from the outside, “privileged” is probably not the first word that would come to mind. Like many kids who grew up with a single, working parent, I made my way from school to the public library each afternoon until my mom picked me up a few hours later when her nursing shift ended (a controversial substitute for a babysitter, no doubt). To some this might sound like a frightening and lonely proposition, but in my case, my eyes were opened wide to a world of possibilities — ones I might not have encountered otherwise growing up in small town Alabama.
Seeds were planted at a tender age that are still growing and thriving the older I get... and if you grew up the way I did, you just get it. Here are just a few of the lessons all library kids know:
There’s no excuse for being bored
“Go bang your head against the wall. Only boring people are bored,” Betty Draper said in response to her kid’s annoying complaints about needing something new to do. Think it’s a tad harsh? Ask any library kid, and they'll be all like, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, she's right.
As a child who navigated the aisles and scanned the shelves, you encountered words and topics you didn’t know existed. And you began to ask questions — lots of questions. Who’s this guy Botany and why are there so many books about him? Has the history of the world always involved war? Can you really learn to sew from a book? Are there aliens living next door? There were so many books and worlds, you never caught a library kid whining about having nothing to do. To this day, we know how to entertain and occupy ourselves. In fact, can there be, like, 70 hours in the day, pleeeasssee?
The sky's the limit when it comes to thinking and doing
Compared to the other kids, you knew what it was like to have your imagination totally run w-i-l-d. With homework finished, you would spend hours reading or looking at pics on any anything and everything. You read about astronauts floating through space and knew in a nanosecond that intergalactic travel was your destiny. One glimpse of heart-melting images in a mega-huge volume about endangered species and it was for sure: you'd be a vet. Then one sweet day, you discovered the library’s jazz recordings — you were the next Ella.
OK, you're sitting at a desk somewhere and you're not exactly in a spaceship... whatever. That's not the point. You knew there was a boundless world out there in a way that no one else quite did.
Organization is total zen in a chaotic life
It takes a special kind of person to appreciate something as mundane as a systematic filing system, but if you're a library kid, you'll understand not only how great it is, but it'll bring you peace. Growing up, no matter what was happening at school or at home, I knew once I walked into that place of quiet and organization, my thoughts would calm and mood would lift. Library kids know that organization brings calm and zen — and even though we may never achieve that same level of balance and order in our own lives (because, like, the library is a temple, thanks), we totally get its power.
Sometimes making a point just takes a whisper
When was the last time you whispered? Not just keeping your voice down — I mean saying something important in a hushed tone. Talking in the library was a no-go, so when you needed to say something, you had to choose your words carefully and whisper quickly. ("Becky, hottie in the mystery stacks to your right.") You communicated everything you needed to without shouting, or even talking in a normal tone. Library kids know that whispering can be a mighty powerful form of communication.
Honing your Spidey sense at an early age serves you well
Growing up in the library, you learn to be observant. Since you're not gabbing away with friends or distracted by a zillion other things, you spend time watching people. You become an expert sizing up visitors, and can soon predict who's making a beeline to the Self-Help section and who's bound for Biographies. You also learn there are creepy creeps hanging around the library — like everywhere else (ever been to a Starbucks mid-afternoon?) Through your superhuman power of observation, you know when someone is sketchy and you follow your instincts. You know when to hop over to a more crowded section of stacks, or to let a librarian know someone's being a weirdo.
And, for goodness sakes, all library kids know to stay out of the magazine section, aka sketch central.
Everyone benefits when knowledge is free and easy
You get SO MUCH JOY from seeing all different walks of life scanning the shelves, quietly reading to their kids, and using the computers. And the democracy of it all thrills you — because when you stop and think about it, the concept of a public library is totally mind-boggling. A vast collection of knowledge on almost every single subject imaginable that is completely free and available to anyone interested? You can even take books home with you?! (If you happen to be thinking right now, Isn't that what the Internet is? then you're not a library kid.)
Our parents kick ass
As much as you might have complained about not being out riding bikes or hanging with friends, you knew deep down the library was kinda rad. Your parents had the smarts to park you in a temple of knowledge instead of in front of the TV (not a temple of knowledge, no matter how you argue you it). And you knew — even though sometimes it sucked — you'd end up being better for it.
Library kids? We know we’re the lucky ones.