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Mary Belk: ‘The library excursion was always my favorite outing’

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Mary Belk: ‘The library excursion was always my favorite outing’

Mary Belk

When I was a little girl, we couldn’t afford to use hard-earned cash on new books. But, that was okay, because there was a lending library nearby.

My earliest childhood memories of West Point, Georgia, bring back visions of our weekly trip to Hawkes Library. We’d pile in the family Ford and drive across the Chattahoochee River Bridge to the tiny red-brick building, and while Mama browsed the big people’s shelves, my chubby fingers flipped the pages of picture books.

The library lady sat in a wheelchair behind the desk shuffling Library of Congress cards, ready to punch the due date in books. Stamp. A book slammed. Stamp. Another book. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t read or that I wasn’t supposed to laugh or talk out loud. The library excursion was always my favorite outing. Back home my sisters sprawled in cushy chairs turning the pages of their borrowed books lickety-split while I sat in my little red rocker reading my books upside-down.

When my family moved to Auburn in the 50s, we all got library cards at the Hollifield Public Library on North Gay Street. I could read then, and my first chapter-book, a biography of Lou Gehrig, came from those shelves. And when I was sick, Mama brought home “Little Men,” “The Hardy Boys,” and Eleanor Estes’ “Moffat” series, and read aloud to me.

After I left Auburn, I found new libraries wherever I went. As a graduate student in Atlanta, I borrowed books from the scholarly stacks of the four-floor Asa Griggs Candler Library at Emory University. I was captivated by that dignified structure with its spiral staircases and floor to ceiling publications.

And, later when I lived in tidewater Virginia, I frequented the quaint library that perched on a knoll overlooking Urbanna Harbor. Steep stairs led to the brick cottage that was originally a tobacco warehouse built in 1766. It consisted of one large room, neatly bisected by the checkout desk. To the right and left, reading material was arranged alphabetically by an all-volunteer staff on hand-hewn hardwood shelves.

Back in Auburn, the Hollifield Library had moved to a bigger building on Ross Street. The card catalogue, its wooden drawers stuffed with subject-author-title cards, had been replaced by computers. And, as we might have predicted, the building soon became too cramped, and a new library was erected.

Not long ago, on a trip to Columbia, South Carolina, I visited the Richland County Library. While I explored this shiny, three-story structure, I became enchanted by the basement — a children’s paradise. The walls were painted with giant pictures from Sendak’s colorful “Where the Wild Things Are,” and long-limbed potted plants added to the jungle aura. Snuggly chairs and stuffed animals stirred up images from past days.

Nowadays, I love spending time in Lanett’s Chambers County Library. It’s the place to go for their special programs and, of course, an abundant collection of books.

Wherever I go, I like to explore the library. Once inside, I’m home.

Mary Belk lives in Auburn.

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