• You & Your Library

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 60 comments

    Discussion questions: What is your current relationship with libraries? What is your past experience with libraries? Do you have a favorite library memory?

    How far are you from a library? What is the best feature of your local/nearest library? The worst?


    Nearly every weekday morning I walk the same route through my neighborhood, and it takes me along a bustling block of Amsterdam Avenue that contains a firehouse and a library. Firefighters hang around out front of the station, waiting for the next disaster, and library patrons move in and out of the revolving door. If I get there at the right time, two or three dozen people will be lined up waiting for the library to open.

    Thursday morning, the block was nearly silent. A few firemen chatted in front of the open bay door, but the library was deserted, closed for July Fourth.

    I don’t really have a point, outside of the fact that I almost never think of the library as a I walk past it, and I thought about it on Thursday only because of its lack of activity.

    The city I live in offers more than 200 branches, between NYPL and the Brooklyn and Queens systems. I rarely use any of them. But as a kid, the library was one of my favorite destinations. For me, libraries are mostly nostalgia.


    I can’t even remember the names of all of the elementary and middle schools I attended. But I can summon the layout of the library in almost every one of them. I can walk you straight to where the Hardy Boys books are shelved in two of my K-6 schools. I can still see the row of Choose Your Own Adventures (The Mystery of Chimney Rock!) in my 7th/8th-grade library. And I can still feel the rush of adrenaline I experienced when, as a freshman, I stood along the far wall of my high school library and scanned the row of Stephen King titles before selecting The Shining, my first bold step into adult horror fiction.

    I recall the layouts of, and even specific outings to, the public libraries in two of the towns I grew up in, my mom corralling my younger sister and I into the car and then setting us loose in a sea of books.

    Somewhere in adulthood, that enchantment went away. At the various colleges I attended, a library visit became something to dread, an obligation; not a place to find awesome new books, but a place for research and schoolwork I didn’t want to do.

    As an adult, I occasionally browsed books when I lived in Boston and Austin, but the vast majority of my books came from bookstores.

    When Justine and I moved to our first NYC apartment, my nearest library was the St. Agnes branch. I went there a few times, but I never enjoyed it. It’s cramped and crowded, and loud. There’s nothing peaceful about it; it’s an unpleasant place to browse, and it’s an impossible place to read.


    My current branch, the one I walk past daily, is better.

    A few weeks ago I stepped inside to find a book to take on vacation. It wasn’t overly crowded, and it wasn’t very loud. The selection is arguably thin, but I found a handful of interesting titles, and I took a seat at a table and quietly read a few pages from each of them before making my selection. At which point I went up to the counter, gave them my card, and walked back out again. With a free book!

    How cool is that?


    So what is your current relationship with libraries? How far are you from a library? What is the best feature of it, and what is the worst?

    What is your past experience with libraries? Do you have any favorite library memories?

    Let’s talk about libraries in the comments below!


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2019 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”


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    Barbara Mealer

    I spent a lot of my childhood at Beason Memorial Library in Titusville, PA. It is old…really old, with tons of wonderful tomes to take you on journeys into places you’d never go otherwise. I loved the crowded spaces with books you couldn’t find elsewhere. The library is 115 years old this year and is still a wonderful place to go even though they have made it a place for internet user and you don’t need to do a search of the card catalog any longer. What was nice that even as I child, I could walk there with my… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    I’d really love to get something closer, but it appears that the writers in my area don’t like groups all that much. I know there is a George Wallace of KAU publishing in my area along with another writer. Someone did try a class in Williams but only 5 people showed up for the first class. By the last class there were 2 left. Meeting in a restaurant in a side room would work if there were only a few of us, but I’ve no idea of how to even get it out there other than through the weekly paper.

    Barbara Mealer

    I would definitely try it. I know there are more writers that me in this area but they are real hermits and seldom come from their caves and when they do, they don’t let anyone know they are writers or publishers.

    david lemke

    Interesting you should mention… The writing group I’m in is going through upheaval since our facilitator, John Campbell, died. I have to see, but it might be that it might be come less worthwhile. If anyone wants to start a writing group on line either formal or informal might be worth a try.

    david lemke

    Country living has it’s drawbacks.

    david lemke

    Hell yes!


    Libraries…hmm..let me think about that for a moment. I really am not sure what to think about the library. I suppose there are good things and not so good things about everything. To begin with, one of the good things about the library is that it is located right up the road from me. I can possibly walk there, but driving takes only five minutes to ten minutes, and that is a nice bonus when the weather is cold or really super hot outside. Anyway…for the most part, I can use a library card for just about anything at the… Read more »

    david lemke

    I think I’m in trouble; Half price books has there 20,30,40, 50% sale and I have 4 coupons for each day…
    As far as I can remember, librarians have never been other the helpful. (except when I had fines to pay)

    david lemke

    Not so good so far. the clerk at the counter would only honor two of my coupons. I bought a couple Fred Saberhagan books that I had read the first of years before. If I see her clerking, I will avoid her, or use one and come through again. My wife needs some more Preston/Child books, but I’m using them less and less since I have all the books on writing that I need and all the dictionaries I need. I need to read what I got.

    Hans De Leo

    I remember the Wilton Manors Library, conveniently located close to where I was going to school at the time. Science fiction was my genre of choice, and I read a lot of Andre Norton’s books. The biggest reason I used the library was that it was free. And it was air conditioned. Like you, I don’t spend much time in libraries these days. It’s much more convenient to use an e-reader app (who would have thought?). Still, if it wasn’t for consuming all those printed pages when I was growing up, I doubt I’d be a writer today. Hmm. I… Read more »

    frances hill

    Best library experiences are memories of when my children were young, we would go to the community pool for swim lessons in the morning, then hang out in the small Center Circle library reading until the pool reopened for open swim. Books are our friends! I can’t let go of my Bernstien Bear collection, too many great times with a warm little behind on my lap and two snuggled against us reading these tales.

    frances hill

    My kids were never the running screaming brats you described, don’t know what ails parents these days! Ha!


    I remember my parents taking us to the library every Saturday to stock up on books. Later, in high school, I worked at our main branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library as a page. Once in college I studied and researched there. I almost became a librarian, but that’s another story. Our main library was a bit spooky with glass upper floors that you could see through. It since has been remodeled. I hope they kept the glass floors. I haven’t been in that old library in years, but go to one of the branches closer by. I still… Read more »

    david lemke

    When I became e-published, I found out you can download Kindle for pc or Mac for free. If there’s a book I want, I can download it instantly.

    Peter E Greulich

    Our local library is a community affair. Every time I go to it I remember that our democratic society does work because, when I was a member of the neighborhood association – I fought it tooth and nail to avoid the traffic on our already busy street. Finally, when we had a meeting of the top folks in the association to decide, the president just looked at me and asked, “Pete, would your rather have a 7-11 on the corner?” – Sold! In a democracy, sometimes all it takes is one question to win someone over … and since then… Read more »

    Peter E Greulich

    I haven’t been downtown since the remodel. Most folks though tell me it is a wonderfully, modern, completely open homeless shelter … if you catch the drift of that comment. ;) What we have in the county … is a private library, funded by the community so I can’t comment on the overall Austin Library System which I rarely use actually … I am sure that there will be creative folks that could make gaming educational … but I have yet to see that be the preponderance of what is going on. Chalk my complaint up to old man syndrome.… Read more »

    Peter E Greulich

    David, there is no high road for me on my comment above. Rereading it, it does come across as heartless. No good in that. The point I was trying to make is that a few folks tell me that the usage as a library has not gone up in proportion with the investment of a massive amount of money while its usage by the homeless has increased exponentially. I can’t testify to any personal knowledge as I use the University of Texas at Austin brick-and-mortar library system when I need deep research and assistance. This is available to a card… Read more »

    stephen Glick

    I am somewhat lucky as the are midsize towns and all carry libraries. mine is 5 miles away. So not too far. I don’t have memories of library’s as a child .I regret but I had no interest in books. Looking back I wish I had. But hindsight.Today I average reading a book ever two or three weeks . And I prefer to purchase the books .I just love owning the book and cannot imagine parting with any All the best Stephen.

    frances hill

    I too have the need to purchase books and can’t part with my favorites. Have only recently become a routine library visitor.

    david lemke

    Something I’ve been doing since 96 is to meet attend book signing and I have a lot of autographed book I won’t let go of without a struggle. With about 3000, many shelves are double and even triple deep; makes it hard to find stuff.

    david lemke

    There’s a down side; forgetting what I have, I occasionally buy again a book I have.


    Libraries have been, and continue to be, a source of inspiration, stimulating escape, and enlightenment for me. Mazes of wooden shelves with the particular smell of books–old and new–still grab me as they did when I was a child, combing shelves in the sixth grade looking for another literary high. I read every Robert Heinlein YA SF book in Baker Elementary School, along with every Jules Verne and H.G. Wells book I could find. At a book fair held in the Middle Schoole library, I picked up a copy of Dracula. That led me to binge on classic horror–The Hunchback… Read more »


    Thanks, Dave. I’ll check out Orlean’s book (from the library).

    Elissa Malcohn

    This will be a long post. :-) I grew up in Brooklyn. My local branch was Ryder, just beyond McDonald Avenue with its elevated F-train tracks. I didn’t use that branch much, though I can still picture its interior, at least as it had been during the 60s and 70s. But I loved the library inside PS 99, especially the low center shelves in the back, which held the science fiction books. I started in on those when I was nine. My first read there was either Heinlein’s Starship Troopers or Murray Leinster’s Time Tunnel; I forget which. (BTW, PS… Read more »

    Stephen Glick

    I think Library‘s are like grandma and grandpa’s house they will invoke memories. The smell the touch the shelves in the memories of what books you grab First by grandfather gave me in the 1960s a book titled they were expendable I was not able to find that book when he passed and I wish I could but anyway just joining in

    david lemke

    “They were expendable” by W. L. White. there is a PT boat on the cover. Amazon for under $2

    david lemke

    Just went to Amazon, read the first two pages and bought the kindle copy of Susan Orleans’ library book. It arrived as I was writing this. Thanks Dave, looks like a good read.

    Elissa Malcohn

    Just placed a hold for the Orlean book at my local library; thanks! I see mention in the description of the LA library. I’ve never been to that one, but I’ve seen some great perks associated with them — like a limited edition art card designed by Gajin Fujita (https://www.lapl.org/art-card) and a short story vending machine (https://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/blogs/lapl/vending-machine-dispenses-short-stories-angelenos). It’s enough to give me library envy.

    david lemke

    Though I love libraries and have had a library card from every library I’ve lived near since I was 12, the one downside is I’ve rarely been able to get a book read before I had to return it. Sometimes I could recheck it out, but sometimes not. Currently, I’m not using the library even though I can walk there. Over the years my use of the library use has gone in waves. Over that time, I’ve checked out a thousand or more books and audio books on tape and CD which I “Read” in the car. Back in the… Read more »

    david lemke

    Yeah it’s a weird thing. I just red two books in two days; one was old and I was getting close and the other just screamed for me to read it cover to cover now even though it was sitting in my “Read Now” pile for months

    david lemke

    Yeah, It depends on which room I’m in,(or the car) and what I’m in the mood for.

    david lemke

    Brookfield Library has “Meet The Authors” coming in September. I had been planning to be there as an author, but I’ve been having Photo Shop issues and, truthfully, procrastination issues so “Bad Fireplace” will not be ready and I won’t have any actual books to sell there. How long does it take to rush a book with only 50 needed?

    Jerry Schwartz

    When I was very young, I loved our local library because that was where the books were. Not that my parents didn’t have books, or buy me books, but that’s where I could get SciFi. I frequented the library until I went off to college. That broke the link. My tastes were more eclectic by then, but our school library didn’t lend itself to browsing. It was, after all, a research library. I rarely set foot in it. The school bookstore took its place. I went there to buy textbooks, and scarfed up armloads of books on other subjects. I… Read more »

    Pia Manning

    We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and the library was always the first place I’d go. Libraries were always welcoming and my first line of defense against boredom when I didn’t know anyone. Today, my relationship with libraries has changed. I’ve served on library boards in the past, and helped establish ‘friends of the library’ groups. Libraries today compete for funding, as do so many other nonprofits. Their function has changed as libraries have expanded services to compete with their patrons’ changing needs. They offer more to check out than books: classes in everything from computer… Read more »

    adrienne leslie

    My English gran would say, “Even a cat can look at the king.” It was true for the poorest child in Brooklyn. Our library at Grand Army Plaza (the plaza designed to evoke the arc d’triumph in Paris) was/is magnificent. The library’s columns and doors stand 50 feet above the steps, gilded with characters who meander like a child’s imagination; from Zeus to an electrician, from a miner to a huntress. This opulent castle of dreams and ideas still invites anyone with a wish to read.
    I was poor and yet lived richly.

    adrienne leslie

    Awesome! let us know about it.

    Rachel Hamman

    I have great memories of libraries from my childhood. I mostly went to the Meadville Public Library in Meadville, PA. Many years later, I took my son to Bowman Library in Frederick County, VA. Now that he is out of school and grown, I don’t go as often as I did. Since rekindling my writing ambitions, I have been going to Bowman Library more often and checking out resources to help me with my writing. It is only 4 miles from my home, so it’s very convenient. The largest library in our local system is Handley Regional Library. It is… Read more »

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