An Ode to Libraries, Part One

carnegie library

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Dear readers,

Here’s a shocker for you: new authors published by small, indie presses don’t go on big publicity tours.  We don’t have fancy ad campaigns.  And we certainly don’t make gobs of money.

Which is not to say we don’t have perks….I’m totally jazzed about the great authors who endorsed my book. I get a thrill when I see The Button Collector selling in other countries.   And I get a nice shot of warm-and-fuzzy whenever I get a call or message from a happy reader.

But my current favorite ego boost is seeing my book in our local library.  Thanks to the mysterious magic of the internet, I can click-click and view its status any time I want.

Why don’t I do that right now?

Yay!  There it is right along with War and Peace and The Odyssey.  And look at this—War and Peace isn’t checked out today.  Hmmm.  Neither is The Odyssey OR Huckleberry Finn OR Moby Dick.  But The Button Collector … oh yeah, CHECKED OUT, baby.

The library purchased my book over the summer.  It’s shelved with New Fiction and it’s pretty much been circulating since they got it (or at least since I’ve been stalking checking on it).  One time, there was even a request for it.  In other words, people were waiting in line to check out my book.

Can I get a BA-BAAM?

I’m not sure all authors get this much pleasure from seeing their books in the library.  After all, people who check out my book are not generally buying a copy, which some more materialistic, crass, and generally less noble human beings may view as a missed money-making opportunity.  But to me, knowing that my book is in the library is about the most awesome thing in the world for one simple reason.

I’m the original library fangirl.  I love everything about the library—the books, the quiet corners, the collective search for information.

In fact, I realized a little too late in life that the best career path for me would have been to become a librarian.

In fact No. 2, I did actually start a library degree program when I was pregnant with Firstborn.  Then a debilitating condition called parenting reality hit and — bam — I dropped out

In fact No. 3, I sometimes go through life pretending that I am a librarian.  I not only volunteer in my kids’ school libraries, I don’t hesitate to force suggest books to people.  This is my attempt to make up for the fact that I am not an actual librarian.

A Man Named Andrew

I believe I’ve made the case that to me, libraries are among the most wonderful inventions of mankind, right up there with penicillin and baked Cheetos.  So you can imagine the Cosmic


that went off in my head last month when it was time to take Firstborn to college and I found myself at Carnegie Mellon University.  Carnegie Mellon, as in ANDREW Carnegie.  Carnegie Mellon, as in the school named after The Patron Saint of Libraries, the dude responsible for more than 1500 libraries throughout the United States.  Carnegie Mellon, as in the college that just happens to be right next door to THE MAIN Carnegie Library in the universe, the lodestar, the epicenter of all things library.

Be still, my nerd-girl heart.

And so, after dropping off Firstborn, co-parent and I visited The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  We went in through something called the Portal Entry, which, despite its cosmic name, turned out to be a side basement hallway that dumped us Alice-in-Wonderland-Style near the magazines, where we stood dazed, trying to get our bearings.

“Can I help you find anything?” a thin young man with a rad red haircut asked, seemingly accustomed to strange people popping in without a clue.

“We’ve never been here before,” I explained.  “Tell me your favorite place.”

Now, this is what I like about librarians.  A non-librarian would have said something like, “Hmmm…I’ve never really thought about it.  Why do you ask?”  But this young man didn’t skip a beat.  “Second Floor Reference Room,” he said.  “The marble staircase is nice, too.”

And so we explored and it was great…the marble staircase with its steps rounded from more than a century of use; the second floor reference room with its lamps, wooden tables, and elaborate ceiling; the crowded, slightly spooky stacks.  But even though the building was beautiful and historic and inspiring, the best part about the main Carnegie Library was the fact that it was so incredibly similar to every other library I’ve ever been in.  There were moms with strollers and pre-schoolers heading for the children’s section.  There were flyers about concerts and readings and signings.  There were people using computers and browsing magazines and checking out the latest DVDs.  The place was not a museum—it was alive.

At some point we went out through the main entrance just so we could come back in the way the designers intended.  I felt all tingly standing on the sidewalk looking up at the names of literary lions carved into the stone—CHAUCER, DICKENS, SHAKESPEARE.  Above the door, in large letters, was the phrase free to the people.


Back Home

On the long drive home through the Appalachians, I thought about the impact Andrew Carnegie had made on our country.  He immigrated from Scotland as a young boy with virtually nothing  and proceeded to work his way up to become the richest man in the world.  He then gave away the vast majority of his fortune, largely to fund libraries for communities that didn’t have one.  According to a story on NPR, the man paid to build 1,689 libraries so people would have free access to information.

Holy Batman!  Talk about a superhero.  If librarians are the generals in the war on ignorance, this man must be Patton, Charlemagne, and Genghis Khan rolled into one.

Somewhere in the back of my disjointed mommy/writer brain, a little flame flickered to life. . . some foggy memory about our very own library, the library with my book in it … something about that library originally being a Carnegie library.

That couldn’t be true, could it? In the early 1900s, when Carnegie was doling out dollars, our little town’s population wasn’t much more than 2,000 people.  But when I checked the list, there it was, one of only ten Carnegie libraries in the state of North Carolina.

I went to our library’s website and found their historical timeline.  Yes indeed, in 1911 council members entered an agreement with Carnegie and on a rainy September day in 1914, our town’s very first library building opened its doors.

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

It’s September right now.

Not only that, it’s September 2014.  And while I’m not a math whiz, I’m pretty sure this means that this month marks the 100 year anniversary of our library.  That’s a whole century, which, as Joe Biden might say, is a big book-reading deal.

Thanks to Andrew Carnegie, my library is having its 100th Birthday.

And my book’s in it–



If you too are a library fan, be sure to check back soon for An Ode to Libraries, Part Two, which will tell all about the shenanigans my hometown  library has been involved in during the past 100 years.  Read about the outrageous librarians who have served our little mountain town over the past century.  See what wildness went down at their 100th birthday bash.  You don’t want to miss it!     

About Elizabeth Jennings

I am an author living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My first book, The Button Collector, was released May 6, 2013, by PageSpring Publishing.
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3 Responses to An Ode to Libraries, Part One

  1. Very wonderful, as the head of Reference Services here (Carnegie Libr. or Pgh.) I’m glad you found us inviting and alive. thank you.

    • Thanks so much for the feedback, Richard. Here’s another cosmic DING–one of the biggest supporters of our town’s library (Hendersonville NC) has been the Kaplan family. The auditorium is named after them!

  2. Pingback: Two Year Bookiversary! | Elizabeth Jennings

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