Friday, August 1, 2014



I love small, cozy libraries.

My junior high had one. East Junior High School (so imaginatively named -- bleah) opened in 1959. A California architectural firm designed it. There are two north-south running wings on the west side, with two east-west connector hallways linking them to the main building. The main structure is an L-shaped building. The lower leg of the L is the main gymnasium. The north-south running upper leg of the L contained the health classrooms (south), library (middle), and administrative offices (north).  The main gym was connected via an east-west hallway to the cafeteria and two large south-facing wings (which contained the art department, home ec department, wood shop, metal shop, and drafting classroom). The northern leg of the L was connected via an east-west running hallway to a north-facing wing, which contained two choir rooms and a band/orchestra room.

The library was basically a big north-south rectangle. You entered through the main door in the east, and right in front of you was a sunken oval where there were reading tables. Waist-high bookshelves containing fiction books surrounded it. To the left above the oval were the "high stacks" -- floor-to-ceiling bookshelves holding most of the science, history, geography, and art books. To the right was a check-out desk and a glass-walled cube where the three librarians worked. To the west of the "offices" was the reference section, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves against the walls and waist-high bookshelves in the middle. The wall on the far side of the room had huge glass windows which looked out onto the courtyard framed by the connector hallways and "G Wing". When classes were in session, you could see your classmates in their classes, and make faces at them. (One boy mooned them, and got detention. His butt-print was on the glass for three days before a teacher noticed.)

I rarely went to the library during the day. I didn't have a study-hall, as I took a full load of classes all the time. But the library stayed open for 90 minutes after school, although most kids didn't stick around for more than a half hour. The single librarian's aide closed it up at 4:30 PM.

In the fall and winter, it gets dark quick in Montana. And during those fall days, when the setting sun was blood-red at 4 PM and the air was chill, the halls of my junior high were wonderfully silent and cold. The aide would be in her little cubicle, reading the newspaper or doing paperwork, and ignoring what went on in the library. The lights would be low, or even off (those were the days of the energy crisis), and the library would be flooded with red light from the dying sun. The air was still and you could watch the dust motes dance and move in the air. Every so often, a bang or thump would echo through the hallways as the custodians moved cafeteria tables around to mop the floor, or as someone took wet towels and dirty equipment out of the gymnasium to the laundry room.

Those were the times I liked best. Low light. Silence. Just enough chill to make me want to put on a jacket. The smell of the books. The feel of the varnished oak tables, rubbed smooth by tens of thousands of hands and books and binders and papers moving across it. The echoes down the granite-tiled, brick-lined hallways of the school. The occasional closing of a door as a teacher left for the day. The book in front of me, revealing secrets about the world. Teaching me about emotions I never knew existed. Whispering to me about worlds where people didn't hate me or fear me or taunt me or make me anxious and afraid. I loved that library.


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