On the last day of the Belmont Public Library, I felt nostalgic about our little old library. It has served us well, at least for my family.
I wandered through the Children's section. It was quiet, not a child present except for a lone librarian. On many Saturdays, my children and I visited it to catch a story, and to borrow more books, a ritual we religiously carried on with delight. I could almost hear their voices.
My childhood was not flooded with books, it was a luxury we had to go without. Putting food on the table took precedence. My grandchildren own board books that they chew on, some seem indestructible, and they become their teether. They have books that talk back to them, make music, and invite them to participate, books I could only dream about.
Upstairs, there are magazines, new books, biographies, large print and graphic novel sections, CDs, DVDs, computers and non-fiction, and young adult nooks. I am honored to find all three of my books: my first book, Lest We Forget: A Doctor’s Experience with Life and Death During the Ebola Outbreak in the non-fiction section, and Into Africa, Out of Academia: A Doctor’s Memoir, and The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly in the Biography section.
On the third floor is a special book section into which I have never ventured, believing that these books must be rare and precious and this shrine needs special permission for entry. In the fiction section where many afternoons I spent a bit of my time looking for books to read, I paused for a moment contemplating the end of the life of this physical library.
Last year, I gave book talks for my memoir, The Girl Who Taught Herself to Fly, at several libraries near our neighborhood: Wellesley, Cambridge, Concord, Wayland, and Weston. I was in awe of the newness, brightness, and spaciousness of the new buildings, the Belmont Public Library seemed small in comparison. But I still harbor a genuine fondness for it.
When I was twelve, my secondary school teacher introduced my class to the first free library, the United States Information Service or USIS library. As soon as I entered, I felt tiny. The ceiling was three to four stories high, bookshelves reaching up to the ceiling, and I wished I could read every single one of the books. Of course, I could not. At the end of the visit, the librarian gave each of us a library card telling us we could borrow two books every two weeks free of charge. This library was on Beach Street near Weld Quay on Penang Island, Malaya.
The magical word was “free”. This is the library that opened up my world, introduced me to unknown places, and inspirational people, Dr. Tom Dooley, Abraham Lincoln, and Helen Keller, to name a few, and most important of all, I researched and found colleges to apply to and ended up receiving a full scholarship to attend Wellesley College that enabled me to become a doctor and a humanitarian responding to medical missions throughout the world.
A library plays a very crucial part in the development of our lives. I don’t know whose idea it was to make libraries in America free, it is such an enormous gift. I hope all Americans are eternally thankful for it.
As I stood outside the Belmont Public Library on this crisp autumn day, with the sun shining behind it, I breathed a silent and grateful thank you to all free libraries, especially to this old unassuming faithful library which has served us well.
A new library will be built in its place.
May this little library rest in peace.