I’m gearing up for a busy week: textbook collection. I need collection 5 textbooks from 1600 students and I’m never given enough time or manpower to do it. And no one is willing to follow instructions. The end of the year is simply a clusterfuck for the library and I’m so looking forward to never doing this again. Ever. Since this is such a hectic time for me, I’ve asked a few talented friends to step in and help with posting. First up is Bridget Callahan, a writer who lives in Cleveland who sells her amazing photography on Etsy. All of the photos from today’s post are from the now demolished Madison School in Youngstown Ohio.
Dad used to take us to the library downtown on Saturday mornings. He would somehow find parking right next to the building, or behind it. Maybe there used to be more parking back then, maybe there was no one downtown ever on the weekends. These days, I can’t park anywhere near it, might as well just take the bus cause I’ll end up paying for a parking garage 5 blocks away. But he used to do it, and now maybe I understand why it seemed he was always getting parking tickets.
The downtown library in Cleveland, what’s known now as the old building since they built the “new” building over a decade ago, is a massive stone place in that great tradition of stone ledges, WPA murals, and brass chandeliers. It was always “the” library to me, because the local branches in comparison were so tiny and modern and lame. To get to the children’s room, I had to do several very important things. First I had to walk past the huge round intimidating reference room, which had be where allClevelandlegislature was decided, because of the rows of reference books and dark wood desks. Then it was up the wide slippery marble staircase, which was a pain in the ass to go up because my tiny legs had to do it two steps at a time. But it was much more fun to run down, hand securely sliding down the banister as thick as my waist. Up past the giant rotating globe, painted in muted blue and greens, and then past the Special Collections room. Special Collections was a mystery to me, since it seemed to always be gated, a tempting doorway into places where I knew they must keep the very important old books, the kind of books that would teach me about how 16th century witches were burned and blueprints to the very first original star machines. When I was older, I finally went into that room, and it was basically where they kept their chess piece collection and some tiny books you could only read with a magnifying glass. I would have been more impressed if I had ever gotten in as a child. As an adult, I just wanted to go there with dates and make out.
Next was the walk down the hallway, past reading rooms and large glass windows with exhibits I never stopped to read. Sometimes I would go into another room first and choose an adult book for myself to take with me to read at the small tables in the children’s room, a place that was just what you would expect, miniature furniture and bright colors. I was well beyond reading the insipid hardcover crap they tried to push on small minds. I knew the difference between pulp and quality. For instance, The Hungry Caterpillar and Hay for My Little Ox, that was art. I never felt ashamed reading those. Richard Scarey was always always acceptable, because it was original. Where’s Waldo was boring and mundane, and I patently hated anything featuring little witches or animals that talked to people. Animals could talk to themselves, or they could be silent partners for humans, but to have children talking to animals was tacky. I was very particular about illustrations, and turned my nose up at things that resembled generic tv cartoons. For actual reading, I preferred Roald Dahl and Daniel Pinkwater books, the John Bellair mysteries with the Edward Gorey illustrations. When I ran out of those, I loved to bring an adult book in there, even if it was boring and hard to read, because I felt so grown up and superior concentrating on it while the other children were “playing” around. In other words, I was an insufferable snot, even as a child. That’s what happens when you’re a dorky fat child who read Tom Wolfe off her parents’ bookshelves before she even understood what adolescence really was. My poor sister read Madame Bovary ten million times before she hit 7th grade. One time, Carrie tried to pick grass from the lawn, roll it into construction paper, and smoke it, because she had read about “smoking grass”. We were “that” family.
But that was the great part about the Big Library, there were no nuns or stern faced middle aged women telling us books were too old for us, like they did to us repeatedly at school and the local branches. In the Big Library, they just wanted you to not run, stay quiet, and not touch the exhibits. Dad would go off to get his history books and Michael Crichton novels, and we would sit quietly at the tiny tables, waiting for him and trying to decide what would be our allotted three books for the week. When everything was picked out and decided, we would go downstairs to the intimidating check out line (intimidating because I consistently lost my library card at least twice a summer), and Dad would pay his fines and then we would go. There were always fines, there were always parking tickets, and there were always the same the paintings and statues and oh that globe. Right by the checkout desk were the staircases that went downstairs. I was never allowed downstairs, I think they were closed to the public before the new library building was built next door, and while waiting for him in line, I would stand at the very top of the stairs and look down into the mysterious bottom hallways and wonder. The library was treasure place, I was sure of it, just like I knew there were extra special dinosaur bones in the back rooms of the Natural History Museum, and diamond crowns in the dusty corners of the Art Museum. Little 9 yr old me was equally certain that if I could just sneak down those back stairs, I would find old things and rare things and I would somehow be labeled an adventurer and grow up to fame and fortune, because every great character I read about was a risk taker and didn’t let stupid things like security guards stop them.