My relationship with books began when I was very little and my dad would read bedtime stories to my sister and me. He read us The Plump Pig and Yertle the Turtle. He was vexingly partial to two of his favorites--Rabbit and Skunkand the Big Fight and Gordon the Goat. We groaned every time Gordon got sucked up into the tornado, but always found ourselves drawn in right along with him.
My mother read to us, too. She read the Windy Foot books about a boy and his Shetland pony. Everything was wonderful until my sister, who was a year older, figured out she could go faster if she read the books to herself. My reading was way less advanced than hers, and I was left hanging in the middle of the series!
Before I went to school, my sister had taught me to read my first word—LOOK. I was so excited, knowing that the mysteries of reading were now unlocked.
My relationship with libraries began as soon as I could read. On Saturday mornings we went downtown to the Sioux Falls Public Library and carefully chose our books for the week. I picked “girl books.” Boys were permissible only if they weren’t the main characters. I also developed a preference for stories that “could happen.” I made an exception, though, for the Teenie Weenies, who lived in a shoe beneath a rosebush. They were so small that a thimble served as their water barrel. My paternal grandmother, Nana, had loved the books, so I did too.
My maternal grandmother was important in my early reading as well. She read aloud the Mother West Wind tales and could always be counted on to give a splendid rendition of Grandfather Frog’s “Chug-a-rum!” She also read us Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy. My sister and I were taken with the chapter titled “Surprise,” in which one of the misbehaving “big boys” got whipped at school. My grandmother was considerably less enamored with that chapter. We would try to coax her into reading it, even inventing that there were TWO chapters called “Surprise.”
When our family went on trips, we regularly visited libraries. In Havre, Montana, where my dad taught a summer math institute, my sister and I spent much of our time at the library reading Bobbsey Twin and Nancy Drew books. Going to the library even topped playing on the high teeter totter at the local park. At the Boston Public Library, where we happily settled while my parents attended a church convention, we were so immersed in our books that we almost missed being evacuated during a bomb scare.
I remember checking out a book about Daniel Boone from my elementary school library. Boone’s son died, and I was shocked that characters in books could actually die. Books have wracked my emotions ever since, memorably as I experienced Beth dying in Little Women and Johnny in Death Be Not Proud. Books have brought undiluted pleasure as well. The Ezra chapter in The Little Minister never fails to make me laugh. In books, I live the characters’ lives and find an essential reality and hope that sustains me.
As an adult, interested in genealogy and historical study, I have continued to visit libraries and archives wherever I travel. In Royalton, Minnesota, I searched old newspapers stored amongst the fire trucks in the fire station adjacent to the library. In Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian Institution archives, I examined the papers of 1888 SDSU graduate John Merton Aldrich, curator of insects at the National Museum. In the Lund University library in Sweden, I found a book connecting my ancestor to Wittenberg University during Martin Luther’s tenure there. In libraries, I experience the joy of research and discovery.
As a cataloger, I love organizing and describing information and making it discoverable to users. When I use libraries, in person, online, and through interlibrary loan, I am grateful for others’ careful work that allows me to readily find what I need. Whether pursuing challenging research or simply seeking a good story, I rely on libraries. In the words of Jorge Luis Borges, “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
Lisa Lindell earned a master’s degree in 1993 at South Dakota State University and is the Catalog Librarian at Hilton M. Briggs Library