I have always loved libraries, as a child I walked to the local library, a 30 minute walk, twice a week to check out books. In those days in Israel we didn’t own books but got them from the library. In my private collection I only had my most precious books, about 30, those that my brother bought for me; among them were all the children books by Erich Kastner.
Although thanks to that library in Haifa I could read all the books that I ever wanted , it wasn’t a real library, there was no place to sit or to hang out. Rather it looked more like a storage place for books. Only when I was 24 year old and my husband and I were graduate students at the University of Toronto did I get to see, for the first time, a real public library.
The main public library in Toronto is a beautiful building that has every possible book. There I spent many hours listening to recordings of Shakespeare’s plays so that I could understand the plays that I had to read for my seminar. To this day before I go to see a Shakespeare play I study it in the same way.
Later when we arrived to Iowa City IA(where my husband Tzvi got his first job as an assistant professor at the university), the public library was the first sign that we arrived to a small yet civilized place. The public library in Iowa City is prominently situated in the center of town. When we lived there the library was a happy place full with children and their parents, teenagers on their own, retirees with time on their hands to read the papers and people who just came to check out books.
When we moved away from Iowa City to, what seemed like, a similar small town in Texas, I should have read the signs that this place was quite different from Iowa City when I visited the substandard library. Indeed, to compensate for the void in the library and supplement my daughters’ general education, I had to spend days in used books stores looking for good books for them to read.
Several years ago, Tzvi had to undergo a medical treatment in the Mayo Clinic. Together We walked through, what seemed like, endless corridors to get to the public library in Rochester MI. When we finally found it, the well-lit library was literally one ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy period.
Whenever I visit a new town, I check out , forgive the pun, its public library; by doing so you could learn a lot about the place and its priorities. Moreover, I believe that judging a town by its library is actually an efficient way to evaluate its merit. If the library is friendly, generous, well- stocked, well- maintained and well-lit you could be pretty sure that you have made a good decision and have landed in a good town.