The enchilada-red San Antonio Central Library.

We probably all have defining moments we remember from our childhood. The first time riding a bike without training wheels. Catching that rocketing baseball and saving the game. Rollerskating without falling.

For me, it was getting my library card.

I still remember the librarian coming to visit our 3rd grade class at Holy Innocents Grade School in St. Louis. Sylvia Duncan was British, so everything she said was pretty magical to begin with. But when I found out we could come to the library and check out six – SIX!! – books at a time, well, that pretty much rocked my 8-year-old world.

Thus began my lifelong love affair with books. I checked out my limit, soaked them up like a sponge, and a few days later I’d be back at the library for six more. I dreamt of the day I would get to work at the library – could there possibly be anything cooler than that?

The building itself wasn’t much to look at. It was a simple, cinder block structure at the tri-intersection of S. Kingshighway, Shenandoah and Vandeventer. I can still picture it in my mind. A large magazine display rack was on the left as you entered, and the checkout desk was on the right. Off to the right behind the desk was the children’s area.

The Fiesta Tower by famed glass artist Dale Chihuly at
the San Antonio Central Library

The chairs were white, coated wire with thin yellow seat pads. If you sat there too long, you had checkerboards impressioned on the back of your legs. The Holy Grail of all information – the card catalog – was in the center of the room, and to the left were the reference materials and then the adult fiction.

I gradually worked my way from the right side of the room to the left, but I didn’t always get to read what I wanted. I still remember bringing “Portnoy’s Complaint” to the checkout desk and getting a firm shake of the head side to side from Mrs. Duncan. Forty years later I still can’t see that book without thinking of her.

They tore the old library down about 20 years ago and built a beautiful new one, much larger than the one I frequented. But the square footage wasn’t important to me. All I knew was the library was my escape, my refuge, my magical place.

A map of the 2nd Annual San Antonio Book Festival April 5

I thought of this yesterday when I volunteered at the 2nd Annual San Antonio BookFestival. If my 8-year-old self could only have imagined me among all those authors and ALL THOSE BOOKS!

It did my heart good to see so many kids at the festival … kids who were excited about reading. It made me think of my weekly treks to my old neighborhood library, of the privilege of having a library card and being carried away into other worlds. And it reminded me that while I never got to work at a library like I once dreamt I would, books did become an indelible part of my life.

Thank you, Mrs. Duncan, wherever you are.


Unknown said…
What a great read! I completely FEEL your love of all things Library and the beauty of books. It was such a pleasure to meet you and work side by side with you on Saturday at OUR #dreamjob! I too, am a PROUD LIBRARY FANATIC! Can't wait till next years Festival so I can live that dream again. We are really blessed here in San Antonio to not only have a BEAUTIFUL Central Library, but multiple branches not less than 10 minutes apart from each other. I like to Library HOP on a regular basis. They all have books, but they each have their own personality :-) Thanks for this great story and trip down Memory Lane!

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