The Detroit Public Library of my Youth
As I celebrate another birthday this week, I’m taking time to reflect back on my childhood experiences going to my local library. I lived in Detroit, Michigan and our closest branch library was a beautiful Carnegie building about a mile from my house. The children’s section was located to the left as I entered and the adult section was on the right, with the large circulation/reference desk dividing the two. As a youngster, I wasn’t allowed to cross over to the adult section without an adult present. In my memory, I can vividly recall a stern woman sitting at the desk admonishing me to return to my own side unless my mother was at my side. My solution was to wait until summer when my beloved grandmother came to stay for three months each year. The two of us would make our way over to the adult mystery section and she’d let me select several Mickey Spillane or Mary Roberts Rinehart books for my weekly reading pleasure. (This was back in the late 1950s and certainly Spillane books were considered “adult”!) My mother always turned a blind eye to our book selection and simply encouraged my reading habit. My grandmother checked out the books in her name, but I took great, secret satisfaction in looking at the librarian and knowing I had gotten past her rules. My childhood library closed long ago and the building was turned into an African American Heritage Center to support the curriculum at the high school across the street. Now that high school has also been closed, so I don’t know the fate of that place that started my lifelong passion for reading.
I now fast-forward to the Detroit Public Library of today. In yesterday’s Detroit News (http://detnews.com/article/20110517/METRO/105170427/Detroit-Public-Library-may-close-only-6-branches) it was announced that ONLY six branches would have to be closed rather than the original number of eighteen, out of a grand total of twenty-three locations. I know that Detroit’s economy is at rock-bottom and that cuts must be made in all services. It simply makes me feel sad that so many children living in Detroit won’t have that unique experience of visiting their local library as I did over fifty years ago.