Every now and then my mind drifts back to when I was child growing up in South Whitley. Heck, whom am I kidding, as I get older, it happens quite frequently. One of my favorite places to which I often retreated was the South Whitley library – an old converted house where I spent a good share of my growing up years. The old South Whitley library was located at the corner of Front and Maple Streets; the current library is located on the same spot.
From the age of seven or eight, I frequented the library every chance I got, walking the few blocks from my home in the southwest corner of the town, past the two rows of stores that lined State Street, and arriving finally at the library located on the other side of the “busy” main thoroughfare.
I remember the layout as if it were yesterday. The entrance was a small foyer which led to several different floor levels and a maze of books. The library had been a small home to someone at some point. The smell was that of old, seasoned wood and musty, stale air. The wood floors were worn from years of footsteps of those in search of the treasures held within its walls. The ceilings were high, and light shown through windows catching dust particles in the air. I remember the sense of excitement as I walked into the library to spend the afternoon, looking for just the right books to accompany me on my walk back home.
I made many friends at the library – authors of every known persuasion. Each book contained a dream of a faraway place or of an idea that was new and bold. Although I read all types of books, I loved the history books, in particular. I tackled “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” when I was 12 – right after the book was published in 1960. To this day, at 1245 pages, it is still probably one of the longest books I have ever read.
But one of my favorite authors was Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian explorer who undertook strange journeys to mysterious places of which I had never heard. I read Aku-Aku, a tale of his 1955 and 1956 travels to Easter Island located in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Chile. The island was home to hundreds of statues, each weighing tons and somehow, mysteriously, coming to inhabit the Island.
I read another of his books, Kon Tiki, but somehow it didn’t hold quite the fascination of Aku Aku. In 2002, long after reading his books and long after his journeys had come to an end, Thor Heyerdahl passed away. I saw the notice in the paper, and I wondered if anyone else remembered who he was.
I instantly thought back to those days in that old library in South Whitley and the knowledge that I gained from hundreds of trips and years of reading. Today, reading can be done almost entirely online. Some say that books will become a thing of the past; I truly hope not.
Computers do not have pages to turn, they do not have that wonderful smell of newness, and they do not have the ability to hold between two covers the dreams and knowledge of thousands of years of wisdom and inspiration. They are not and can never be books. Books have character: they grow old and their pages become fragile and yellow with age.
Today’s libraries are probably architecturally superior to those of old – they are modern structures with straight sleek lines. No smell of wood or dancing of dust particles. They are functional entities constructed to meet the demands of modern times. They have very little from which to create historical character.
Today’s libraries may hold the same dreams but they are dreams implanted into a different context. I have to admit, I miss the old library. It was a place full of dreams. The old library, to many, was nothing more than an old house full of old books, but it was, to me, my wonderland of dreams.