It must have been twenty years since Sue had set foot inside her town's public library, long ago having traded in her library card and the familiar smell of the old books for a Starbucks coffee and fresh clean novels under fluorescent lighting. But now her daughter's class assignment required a visit and then report about the library and its resources.
Sue couldn't wait for her daughter to end the school year. Her teacher was new and full of passion. That, combined with the fact that her daughter was a teacher's pet and worked hard to keep that status, meant that on top of her full-time job Sue spent her weekends feeling as though she was back in elementary school. At parent-teacher night, she'd begun scoping out the fifth-grade teachers in search of the less engaged faculty so she could put a request for her daughter to be in their class next year.
As soon as they passed through the library’s automatic doors, her daughter spotted some girls from her class and left Sue standing alone next to some self-checkout stands. She had become used to seeing self-checkouts at the grocery store but it was a surprising discovery at the public library. Certainly a long way from bringing the book up to the circulation desk for a date stamp. Who would reassure you about what a great book you were checking out?
Sue had only meant to drop her daughter off, but she decided to take a quick peek around at what else had changed since she studied here with her own classmates. Many things were new to her. Workstations that used to be full of computers were replaced by empty spaces equipped with a plug and USB port. Out of the fifteen workstations, she counted only five that had computers still. Next to the printer was a large glass box that was quite peculiar. Upon further inspection she realized it was a 3D printer. A soft "wow" escaped her lips as she bent over to watch in awe is it printed.
The little library was barely recognizable, but somethings still felt familiar. Sue imagined that no matter how many things changed around them, the stacks of books would always remain consistent.
A smile formed across her lips as she reminisced about visits to this same library as a child. Her father was a teacher, so she spent most of her days in the summer with him. They would ride their bikes to the library together each morning. At first, she sat in an attachable seat on the back of his bike, then she graduated to a bike of her own, complete with training wheels, and eventually the training wheels came off and she rode alongside her father with streamers happily flowing in the wind.
With one memory another followed, and she moved towards the art section. She often thought about her father but rarely spoke of him. Having passed away long before she married and had children, he somehow seemed a part of an old, separate life in her past. As she passed through the various book stacks she paid careful attention to the books sitting on the shelves, nestled into their protective plastic covers with matching stickers. Walking through the aisles felt like traveling back in time. The workstations and circulation desk flaunted new technology, but the stacks revealed a library she had known intimately in the 1980s.
It didn't take long to find the book she was looking for. The thick book was heavy to pull from the shelf, heavy with glossy photographs it housed within its covers and heavy with the memories it conjured up. As a child, her father would drop the book into her arms and laugh as the weight of it would nearly topple her to the ground. "Easy there," he'd say as he pulled on her arm to help her regain balance, chuckling from the moment he first let go of the book until the moment she was standing upright again.
Her father's absence in this moment was palpable. She remembered how she'd sit on his lap as they flipped through the pages together. Once she asked if they could check the book out and take it home, but he said no. "My favourite thing about this book is riding our bike here and hunkering down in our favourite chair to look through it," he said as he pinched her cheek. At that time, she was still riding on the back of his bike, and through all the stages of graduating to her own bike and then losing her training wheels, she never asked again to bring the book home.
Now, years later, she found herself sitting alone staring at Normal Rockwell, artist and illustrator. A familiar thrill rose within her as the plastic cover crinkled and shifted as she opened the book. The pictures were colourful and lived on smooth glossy pages that added to their beauty.
Sue took a quick look to her left then right. People milled about around her but she decided she didn't care and lifted the book to her nose, taking a deep breath in. The distinct smell that only a library book has rose up into her nostrils and she swore he father whispered, "Take a big breath in and smell it, Susie. Nothing smells better than a library book."
As a kid, she'd thought he was crazy. When she'd been old enough to ride alongside him with no training wheels on her bike, she'd roll her eyes and giggle. "You're so embarrassing, Dad," she'd say. But embarrassed or not, she loved every moment of those afternoons together.
"Here you are!" shouted her daughter as she came barrelling around the bookcase. "I've been looking everywhere for you. I got all my stuff done, we can go now," she said.
Sue was quickly pulled out of her trance. "Sh," she whispered. "Don't be so loud."
Time to get back to her responsibilities, she thought. Still, she took her time pushing the collection of Rockwell paintings back into place, letting her finger catch on the sticker bearing the book's catalogue number. "Hey, have they taught you about the Dewey decimal system in school yet?" she asked.
Her daughter looked at her with a confused expression.
"Come on, let's go," Sue said motioning her daughter towards the door. "I need to get groceries on the way home." But as they passed the circulation desk, she said. "Hold on." Then she asked the librarian, "Excuse me, may I have an application for a library card?"
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