“How you doin’?” the security guard said as I walked inside the public library.
“I’m getting my library card today,” I told him.
“Congratulations,” he said.
I stepped through the front doors into the surgically chilled air of the Birmingham Public Library, one of the largest library systems in the southeastern United States. I’m new in town, a library card was my first order of business.
No sooner had I entered than I could smell books. Lots of books.
The scent of books is a powerful hallucinogenic. When you see this many books in one place, your imagination runs away with you. You are among the greatest minds of humankind in paperbound form.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better book collection than the one the Jefferson County Library Cooperative system has. The system consists of 39 branches, with an annual checkout rate of over 3.7 million books.
When I reached the front desk, ahead of me was a young man in line. He was maybe 15. He had shaggy hair, holes in his shoes, ratty clothes, and shy mannerisms which seemed to scream “low confidence.”
I know the look of the underprivileged. I was one.
He was checking out a large stack of books. I glanced at his literary selections: McMurtry, Coben, Connelly, a biography of Theodore Roosevelt, Tolkien. Not a bad mix.
He placed his books on the counter. The librarian was an older Black woman wearing pearls. She asked how he was doing. He spoke with a pronounced stammer.
The woman scanned his books, she God-blessed him, and he left. I saw him rush outside and crawl into a car driven by a young mother. Before their vehicle exited the parking lot, he was nose-deep in Harlan Coben.
A hundred years earlier, that kid could have been me.
When I made it to the front desk, the librarian smiled. “Help you?”
“I’d like to get my library card, ma’am,” I said.
“Well,” she said, “let me be the first to welcome you to the Birmingham Public Library.”
“Proud to be here,” I said.
And we got down to business.
My love affair with public libraries dates back to my first experience getting a library card when I was 5 years old. My mother rushed me into a public library because I had to pee, and the library had the cleanest public restrooms.
While we were inside, I got my library card. I was supposed to sign the card, except I didn’t know how to write my name at that age. So I drew a picture of a horse instead. Although my drawing looked more like a depiction of Jabba the Hutt with extra legs.
That little paper card turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Because after my father died, I dropped out of school in the seventh grade. My education became a shipwreck. I was a lost boy.
Still, no matter how bad things got, I never quit using the library.
Librarians took a special interest in me. Each week, a guild of elderly women in reading glasses curated stacks of books just for me. They fed me a steady diet of Westerns, romances, thrillers, historical fiction, crime novels, biographies, travelogs, classics, National Geographics. They introduced me to Samuel Clemens.
There are no two ways about it, I am a writer thanks to the American library collective. I am the love child of librarians and a county system that is funded by public taxation.
My literary beginnings originate with a humble brigade of white-haired women who knew the intricacies of the Dewey Decimal System. They refused to watch me disappear into the outer darkness. I owe my education to them. I owe them my career.
A few years ago, I gave a speech before a room full of 800 librarians from around the country. My speech was supposed to be lighthearted and entertaining, but when I gazed at the roomful of men and women who daily dedicate their lives to supplying young people with the printed word, I started to cry onstage.
I thanked them all sincerely for what they had given to me personally. When I finished, a mass of little white-haired women in tennis shoes and Majorica pearls swarmed me in a big group hug. These librarians hailed from New Jersey, Minnesota, West Virginia, Florida, Mexico, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, and California.
Their eyes were just as wet as mine. They were old enough to be my grandmothers.
They doted on me. They told me I was talented. They asked me to sign their books. One lady had me sign her baseball cap. Another woman asked if I would sign her T-shirt with a Sharpie, which was weird. But sweet.
That same night I realized something about myself. I learned that no matter how old I get, I will always be that aimless kid who feels confused about who he is. I will always be the boy who doubts himself. I will never outgrow these feelings. And I wouldn’t want to, either.
But somehow, every time I visit a public library my entire life seems to make a little more sense.
Which is why the most precious thing in my wallet is my library card.
Steve Winfield (Lifer) - March 23, 2022 7:12 am
God bless you Sean Dietrich.
You’ve enriched so many lives & I’m certain it’s only the very begining.
I hope I don’t miss a word.
I introduce you often.
Marlene - March 23, 2022 7:15 am
I wholeheartedly agree. I was introduced to the library at a very young age and 50+ years later I still get excited when I enter the building. Every couple of weeks my husband and I make the trek with our grandsons (ages 2-1/2 and 4-3/4) and max out my card with 30 new books. Their current interests run to robots and construction trucks, but everything in the kids’ section is fair game :-). There is nothing like holding a book in your hands and wondering where it will take you. On those aptitude tests you take when you’re in high school, librarian was the career path I tested most highly on. The closest I came was subbing for the librarian at my daughters’ elementary school but now that I’ve retired and once my grands are in school, I’ll definitely be volunteering at the public library.
Linda Willson - March 23, 2022 7:54 am
This commentary touched my heart because I was raised in a small town in Virginia and our Librarian took me under her wing and supplied me with books that she knew would trigger a love of reading in me. Horses…books written about horses would be placed before me and I would be sent off for delicious hours of reading under the covers at night with my flashlight & then as I got a little older she introduced me to the English novelist Charlotte Bronte and others. I loved that woman because she “got me” and set me on a path of discovery thru reading which I still enjoy today. The best thing though was she eventually became my sisters Mother in law and so she was not only my Librarian but she was also “family”…..
Carol - March 23, 2022 6:13 pm
She was family, long before that marriage! How wonderful when ‘strangers’ take an interest and become beloved friends!
phuffstatler - March 23, 2022 9:14 am
This –> “I learned that no matter how old I get, I will always be that aimless kid who feels confused about who he is. I will always be the boy who doubts himself. I will never outgrow these feelings.”
A truly profound statement that strikes me right to the center. An affirming comment to a thing I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to suppress through burying deep into corporate culture and other areas, and forgetting who I really am, and even what I wanted to be. I’m trying to rediscover that very thing, which is one of the reasons I visit here so often. Thank you for helping me take another step along the way. – Phil in Waco.
Te T(it's Chinese. Pronounced "tay". Go figure. Mama from Appalachia TN) - March 23, 2022 9:52 am
I agree, that was a statement that caught me – I’ve always felt a fraud. I grew into myself, but those feelings are still there. At 78, I’ve concluded it’s just who I am.
Te - March 23, 2022 9:44 am
Oh, Sean, you touched a cord! To me, having books is the most precious thing, and if the house were to catch fire, I would save books right after the dogs and cats because I could never replace some of them. I couldn’t afford to! Each school year, when my parents brought home new texts, the first thing i would do is bury my nose in all that ink and paper. It’s a wonder i didn’t get lead poisoning! And ever since they stopped putting lead in ink, books haven’t smelled quite the same. I want a book in my hands, not some ipad. Sheer heaven!!
Cathie Fowler - March 23, 2022 9:50 am
I had a very different growing up story, apparently much luckier, although as a child I didn’t think about that. But my mother was a reader and we went to the library often. I’m still a reader, and treasure my library card! Now I can order online and my books are delivered, which is wonderful. However, when I return them, that old, “I love being around all these books” feeling comes over me again.
Eileen Twiddy - March 23, 2022 10:07 am
Libraries are treasures to be shared. My husband was. Minister & we moved around a lot. The first place we always visited in a new town was the library. It was our touchstone. A place where we felt at home. And the smell of those books was always comforting. Thanks Sean
Carol from GA - March 23, 2022 10:28 am
I’m hoping you run into that young man that was checking out before you again…. maybe a coincidence…. maybe not??! You were born to affect lives it seems!
Alison Baird - March 23, 2022 10:54 am
Amen! Librarians (school and public) saved my life! The only place I have ever felt free to just be.
Charles Vianey - March 23, 2022 10:59 am
Welcome to Birmingham. I agree, the Jefferson County Library Cooperative is fabulous.
Charlotte Virginia McCraw - March 23, 2022 11:26 am
I usually have a few words to offer in response to your posts. But, today’s post caused such deep feelings that all I can do is weep. My heart cries for that sweet, insecure boy who still lives inside you, and I feel so proud for you that, although you have come so far and achieved a large measure of success, you still keep in touch with him. Do continue to visit him. As you already know, he is a vital part of you.
Shirley - March 23, 2022 11:30 am
This one hit home. My library card is my pass to enjoyment and freedom to explore.
Thank you for saying what’s true to so many of us.
Happy reading and learning,
Mandell Froberg - March 23, 2022 11:35 am
In 2016 our van broke down in rural Mississippi. We were broke and broken, homeless drug addicts. We lived in that broke down 1979 Ford rust bucket for several weeks while we tried to figure out what to do. Our first thought was to contact some churches…but where to start? We were 5 miles from the nearest town. We walked and there was the library. I knew they would know. I’ve always loved losing myself any way I could…books were my first drug of choice. We got into church and got the help we needed. Clean and sober 5 years this week, I am a substitute librarian for the Yalobusha County Public Library.
Connie - March 27, 2022 6:44 am
Cheryl Newsome - March 23, 2022 11:41 am
As a kid, I would haul home a stack of 10 books (the limit back then) from my local library and read in a state of bliss until they were done–then hurry back to exchange them for 10 more. I thought the grandest job in the world had to be working at a library–a place where anyone could borrow books for free. Now I’m far from being a kid anymore–and I work at one of the Jefferson County libraries and still feel it’s an amazing place to be. Welcome (again) to Birmingham, Sean! Come visit us anytime for books and DVDs and CDs and just to enjoy the timeless feeling of being in a library.
stephenpe - March 23, 2022 11:57 am
I love libraries, The first time I saw a bookmobile it was like going to Disney World. At 67 I still go often but now just make my requests on my chrome book and go pick up the reading material.
What’s in your wallet?
Kate - March 23, 2022 12:20 pm
I too cried when I read this. I walked to the Book Mobile when I was 5 with my mother and siblings and check out books every week. My first job at 15 was at a small library in Port Tampa, where I shelved books, checked out books, and read to children. So many “different” people came into the library and it was a haven and safe place for so many where they could learn and grow. I worked in the libraries in Tampa throughout college, and my minor was Library Science (They call it something else now). Libraries have been so important in the lives of so many, especially those of us without much opportunity. I went on to graduate from college, got several advanced degrees, etc. and had a very successful career. None of that would have ever happened without the miracle and magic and the public library system.
Russell Davidson - March 23, 2022 12:26 pm
Mary Roberts… That was her name. She’s the one who I turned to at the library when I was a kid. She never didn’t have time to help with whatever outlandish search I had. She was my ‘Google’ back in the day. And I can’t thank her enough.
Shelton A. - March 23, 2022 12:28 pm
Thank you for sharing. I’ve got to update my own library card. I’ll be using it a lot more very soon! But, like you said, the smell of all of those books is intoxicating! Blessings to you and Jamie plus the hounds!
Lucy Long - March 23, 2022 12:30 pm
Books can save you! Librarians too! Thanks for another sweet story!
Jan - March 23, 2022 12:34 pm
I understand completely. When I was a child in the late 50’s my mother would drive me from our home in Pinson on the outskirts of Birmingham to the nearest public library in Woodlawn. I would walk in those doors and think I was in heaven. I would pick out the maximum number of books they would allow a child to check out and carry them carefully out to the car. My Mother took me each Saturday during the summer and by Tuesday I would have read them all and often read them again by the time Saturday rolled around. Thank you, Sean!
Jocelyn E Piccone - March 23, 2022 12:39 pm
Libraries Rock. Love hanging out in them and reading too.
Cheri Johnston - March 23, 2022 12:42 pm
Boston Public Library….it’s HUGE
Deborah - March 23, 2022 12:53 pm
I love this story. I especially love how you weave your life lesson and humor throughout all your writing! Happy reading!
Leigh Amiot - March 23, 2022 1:04 pm
From joyfully filling my bicycle basket, white plastic “wicker” with three colorful plastic daisies attached, with the limit of books to driving my granddaughter to a public library in Lakewood, Colorado where there was no limit, libraries have been a place of delight throughout my life. I’ve amassed quite a home library from thrift stores, Goodwill, and estate sales. John Kennedy, Jr. spoke of his late mother, how she “died ‘in her own way and on her own terms’ surrounded by family and friends and the books that she loved.” What a lovely end.
Suellen - March 23, 2022 1:13 pm
Reminds me I need to take my daughter for her library card. My daughter is adult handicapped. When she left high school she was reading on about a 1st grade level. In her 20’s we moved so my husband could attend Seminary. The only entertainment we could afford was going to the library. Little by little she taught herself to read. She’s checking out books at middle school level now. Since we moved here it’s one of the things I’ve been putting off.
Barbara - March 23, 2022 1:14 pm
Back in the day when bookmobiles was a thing, one visited our neighborhood. I was in the second grade and my sister in fourth, around 1962. The librarian said we needed a parent to sign for the cards for us. Well we marched home, copied my mom’s signature from a check and back we went. I’m pretty sure she knew what we did…but I got my card and thus my love of books began. Library books have served me well over the years as I escaped to many adventures when life was less than kind. Still have my card too. 🙂
Candice - March 23, 2022 1:20 pm
I got my first library card when I was 8. I felt that this was the most wonderful experience that I had ever had. I couldn’t believe that I could checkout as many books as I could carry, I grew up to be a teacher and I shared my love of books with hundreds of students!
Kathy - March 23, 2022 1:28 pm
I know what you mean.
Judy - March 23, 2022 1:42 pm
I didn’t grow up using the library except the school’s but I vowed I would take my children – two sons. We were country folk but the bookmobile stopped at a four corner grocery store every Thursday and oh how we love to go there – every week! Following high school, my sons have not continued but I have cards for three different library systems and I am in “heaven” when I visit. The library – small town or large – is such a treasure for everyone and for more than just books. Thank you Sean for your column. I love every one but this is the first time I commented; it so hit home for me. Libraries -such a treasure, for all!
Cathy miller - March 23, 2022 1:52 pm
Wish all those dedicated librarians and maybe 1st grade teachers could read this column.
Suzanne Moore - March 23, 2022 1:55 pm
I was a public school teacher and counselor for 34 years. After retirement I needed something to do that gave me a chance to touch people’s lives . I have worked at Boston Carnegie Library in Boston, GA for the last ten years,and have found that joy which I was seeking. Library experiences like yours are exactly the reason that people like me come to work. God bless you, Sean. We have your books in our library. I hope you keep writing and using your library card for the rest of your life.
daniel beck - March 23, 2022 2:07 pm
Thank you , another wonderful story, my grandpop from Ireland lived with me as a little boy, nwver saw him without a book,weekly trips to the library, i too just moved and have my new card !!
Rhea Wynn - March 23, 2022 2:15 pm
I love the feel of a book in my hand. I often read on Kindle these days, but there is no substitute for an actual book. I encourage my students to read, and I love to see what they are reading. I have found many new favorites from books my students tell me about. Thank you for a reminder of days spent with my fingers flipping pages and my nose glued to the story line. Reading opens up a whole wide world (and an imaginative one) for anyone who will engage in the story. i have always felt sorry for people who do not “like” to read. I try my best to instill this passion in my students. I’m so glad you found yourself and your people in the library!!!
Brebda - March 23, 2022 2:17 pm
Such a beautiful tribute! Congratulations!
John Skelton - March 23, 2022 2:33 pm
I have two library cards because there is a district library and a city library. In elementary school the library was in a separate building and was open even during the summer. When I was older my parents let me take the bus downtown to go to the city library.. In high school and junior college I worked in the library. When I got married my wife and I ran the church library, only it was called the media center then. My son has never had a library card, but he’s a voracious reader because we are!
Dale Ann - March 23, 2022 2:33 pm
One of my most cherished childhood memories . . . During the summer months, my best friend and I would bicycle up to the nearby branch library and spend hours (or so it seemed) selecting special books. We would then bicycle back to her house and read all afternoon up in her brothers’ tree house.
Ruth Mitchell - March 23, 2022 3:00 pm
Two of my best friends are retired librarians, and I’m sure they will appreciate and understand your respectful words of tribute.
Bill Strawn - March 23, 2022 3:08 pm
As always, what a way with words. You hit on a subject close to my heart. When my bride and I recently relocated from the east coast of Florida to Olympia WA, our second stop was to get our library cards (we needed a Washington ID first, so that necessitated a stop for a driving license be the first stop). As I read your story, I again thought I was reading about me. Guess I am a narcissist. Thank you, kind sir for another great story.
Gloria Knight - March 23, 2022 3:10 pm
We lived the country- 7 miles from town. Mama would drive to the library about once a month. She enjoyed reading as much as I did. Miss Wessie was the librarian and she seemed to remember everyone’s name! She would tell a story on the radio every Saturday morning. I never missed a one until I out grew fairy tales. Still enjoy reading in my late 70’s and will until I go blind, I guess!
Pamela H Thompson - March 23, 2022 3:16 pm
You must go to the Hoover Library. It is one of the best in the country! But you have been there for Southern Voices so you know!
Irene Steele - March 23, 2022 3:28 pm
Your story resonates with me. Growing up on the west side of Chicago, books allowed me to visit places that I would never see. My grandmother took me to the Legler branch and waited at the door for me. She left school in the 3rd grade in Mississippi to work. When I got my card, I got books on her level, and we began to explore together. As a fellow writer, I state on my website, that my mist prized possession growing up was my library card.
Patricia Gibson - March 23, 2022 3:42 pm
I have wonderful memories of the library ❤️
Michael Wenberg - March 23, 2022 3:45 pm
I lost my wallet a few years back. Know what bugged me the most? Losing my library card.
One of my favorite moments as a kid during the summer was when the book mobile came to our street. Forget the siren music of the popsicle man, for me, it was the sound of that old school bus loaded with books growling to a stop down the way.
Susie Flick - March 23, 2022 3:48 pm
I grew up taking the bus downtown to the public library and wandering the aisles, checking out books. My Mom didn’t drive and my Dad was an over the road truck driver when we were little so the bus was our way to many places. We had a tree house in our apricot tree and in the summer, since the leaves hid me, I would climb up there and read my books. Having a book in my hand to read is precious; here I am looking at the last stack I checked out of 6 books.
My Dad’s younger sister is a retired librarian and now our family genealogist. My daughter is a librarian and has worked in the public library here for over 25 years. She is now head of programming for the entire library system here. I love having a library card – my passport to anywhere and everywhere!
ANITA JEAN PARKER - March 23, 2022 4:08 pm
I too, have always been a library nerd. I worked in the libraries at school during our free periods, and my very first job after school in my senior year was at the Norcross Public Library working under Miss Wingo. I have always been a bookworm, and still want to hold a book, not read from a Kindle or device.
Cindy Welch - March 23, 2022 4:18 pm
My friend and I came to see you just before COVID hit. It was a lovely night. We were in a small library in Georgia. This story makes that night even more special.
AlaRedClayGirl - March 23, 2022 4:32 pm
I’ve loved reading ever since I was in high school. Although I tried to instill that love into my children by taking them to the library often and reading to them daily, only one caught the reading bug. I don’t go to the library often anymore because I have literally hundreds of books at home waiting for me to pull them off the shelf.
Carole Moormann - March 23, 2022 4:35 pm
God bless your heart. I love the library. I am in awe
Of it even at my age.
Martha Black - March 23, 2022 4:44 pm
Dearest Sean, You, as a lover of the written word are indeed a “soul mate”. The weight & feel, alone, of a book in hand is a comfort to me. The smell of shelves of books is a wonderland. They have been my truest companions & caused me to know, it’s alright to dream.
My favorite verse of scripture Psalm 119:105 states:
Thy “word” is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path………..
2 Timothy 2:15
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” i feel that includes books in general.
I believe all written word to be “uplifting, encouraging, informative, educational, companionable”. Though there may have been a few that were not my favorites, I have found my life more enriched by the gift of ‘reading”. Lest we read, how would we know.
Thank you for being part of that.
Helen De Prima - March 23, 2022 4:46 pm
My grandmother took me to the St. Matthews, Kentucky library when it was the single front room in a little shotgun house on a side street. She signed a permission note that I could check out any book I chose, not just children’s books. And my first paying job was as a page after school my senior year; I have books in my blood.
Kathy Dunn - March 23, 2022 4:51 pm
I’ve been waiting for this story… I knew one of the first things you would do was find the public library and get your library card! I never would’ve made it through being a military kid moving all around the world without being able to check books out of the library. My fondest moment was when we were in Germany and were the only American speaking people in our town. Every two weeks my parents would load our family of five children in the van and take us to the base library where we would each be able to check out seven books. I was 10, the perfect age of Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys and read through everyone of their books. In1965 there were no American shows on TV in Germany and VCRs had not been invented yet. My love of reading books is now challenged after having cervical spine surgery, C3-C7 Fusion last June. I can’t bear myself to pack all my books away as the feel and the smell is so healing. I now resort to listening to books on tape. It’s not the same but it’s better than nothing. I went to 13 schools in 12 years and my library/library card helped me settle in to a new place. Now that you have your library card I’m sure you’re going to settle into your new home and town quickly.
Kathy Dunn, Niceville FL
Military Kid and USAF Veteran
Kathleen Szala - March 23, 2022 4:58 pm
Haline Gregory - March 23, 2022 5:08 pm
Two tall bookcases stay with me wherever I live. The books are a history of my life. When I look at each one, re-hold it and turn the pages, a vivid memory of who I was jumps out. Books I read in grade school through college; in every decade after that. Kindles keep me at a distance. A book in my hand warms my soul.
Becky+Souders - March 23, 2022 5:25 pm
From this old, retired librarian: Thanks, Sean Dietrich!
LIN ARNOLD - March 23, 2022 5:47 pm
OK, here’s my favorite library stories. My senior year in high school (Class of 1971, yes, I’m that old!) I had to write my final term paper for my British Literature class. My teacher, Mrs. Costen, had written an extensive list of suggested topics on the blackboard (yes, they were black back then). None of the suggestions appealed to me in the slightest. I asked if I could choose my own topic and since she knew me well, she agreed but asked that she approved it first. The next day, I told her I wanted to do “The Effects of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Childhood on the Writing of The Sonnets from the Portuguese.” She told me that if anyone else had asked for this assignment, she would have said no, but she believed I could pull it off. (Remember…. 1971…. no computers, no internet, no search engines…. just books.)
And so, I was off. Numerous trips to the school library and the city library later (with major league assistance from the librarians), the only information I could get on Elizabeth’s childhood was via the prefaces in about 8 different printings of The Sonnets from the Portuguese. But after reading those prefaces and re-reading the poems, my term paper practically wrote itself! The poems practically SCREAMED about her childhood and her abusive father. I wrote my rough draft for Mrs. Costen to critique and the only advice she gave me was to watch my handwriting (remember, no computers).
When I turned in my final version, I received an A+ on it and Mrs. Costen wanted me to read it to entire class. Afterward, she explained that I had received an A+ not because it was well written (which she said it was) but because there was no way I could have just written it by reading an encyclopedia, that I had to do the research and reach my own conclusions. I told her and the class that I couldn’t have done it without the help of the librarians. She smiled and nodded and said she could definitely believe that.
But my proudest moment was when the Student Teacher asked if she could keep my rough draft. She wanted to show it to her professor! She said that he didn’t believe Literature should be taught in high schools because the students were too young to “get it”. She wanted to prove to him that he was wrong!
My head just about exploded that day! The Student Teacher wanted to use my work to prove a COLLEGE PROFESSOR WRONG!!!!
She also told me that she hoped that I would go to her college … Auburn University … and just show that professor what CAN be learned in high school.
But I didn’t go to Auburn. In fact, I didn’t go to college at all! I went to a trade school for a yearlong Computer Programming course. Now remember, this was 1971. The only Computer Sciences being taught in colleges and universities was for scientific applications. And after a single year of trade school, I led a lifelong career in computer programming, primarily for accounting and inventory control.
But I will never forget Sonnets from the Portuguese! And all the librarians that helped me along the way!
NancyB - March 23, 2022 5:52 pm
This may end up being too long. But. . . . . . We grew up in the country 20+ miles away from the nearest public library. Mom was a super busy farm wife so trips into town were for groceries or fast runs to pick up a replacement part for a broken down piece of equipment. But my dear mother wanted us to love books and reading. During the school year she encouraged us to use our school library and I became a frequent visitor of ours. At that time there was also something called The Scholastic Reading Program. (Not sure if the program still exists.) Once a quarter the teacher would hand out flyers of books available for purchase at very low prices. God bless my mom. Money was tight but she always let us buy at least one book each. Sometimes we’d get to pick out two or, glories of glory, three. Then the l-o-n-g wait for the books to arrive. Now as a high school teacher, I look back and know those orders entailed an astonishing amount of added work for our teachers. All the sorting involved to make sure we each received the books we ordered, labeling each pile by student and finally handing out the books. But they always seemed as eager as we were to get the new books into our hands. Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, The Boxcar Children, Tom Sawyer, Little House on the Prairie. . . . So many wonderful books we had as our very own. In 1996 my parents home burned–a total loss. Everything went up in smoke, including our childhood collection of books. My reading fix is now filled by the local pubic library, a member of the Boonslick Regional Library System. They are beyond amazing! So Sean, yes, public librďaries are magical places.
Lori Klein - March 23, 2022 6:02 pm
I grew up in the JCLC system at the Irondale Public Library. It was on my way home from school, and in the summer there were reading programs with certificates with real gold seals. God blessed me through that little public library, and through those librarians who loved it.
You bless me with reminders of all that is good in our world. Thank you.
John - March 23, 2022 6:56 pm
I was blessed to have librarians in the family. My mom was an English teacher in middle schools and high schools with both a bachelor and master degree. When I was in high school she got her “librarians certification” going to college in the summer. After that she was a middle school and high school librarian. She had an Apple IIe and loaded the entire Dewey decimal card file for the library on the computer. After retirement from the school system she was the consultant for the city and school system libraries gaining a place on the city hall of honor and had an intermediate school named for her. Her eldest sister was a librarian for the US Army in Europe in the ‘50’s and then became the head of the history and literature department of the downtown Dallas public library. So I was never want for library time and access to books.
MAM - March 23, 2022 6:58 pm
Wow, Lin Arnold, what a great story! I hope you are writing your life story, with libraries and Sonnets of the Portuguese as the theme! When I was working on a Master’s Degree in French (in 1965-67!), one of the courses I chose to take was computer translation. Unfortunately, the course was a dud, although we did get to visit the HUGE computer system at the college (my desktop has MUCH more memory than that one did). But the combination of literature and reading and what became my love affair with computers, has landed me where I am. Old, but I’m my own boss of a digital only newspaper where I am the editor and main reporter. So, as a young visitor to libraries, I grew up loving not only reading, but then the blossoming world of computing. Ah, the worlds I visited in those books!
shirley c hill - March 23, 2022 7:02 pm
Thank you thank you thank you. Somehow I will never forget my first trip to the big gray Decatur Ga library home of the Dekalb County Georgia library system. There was some kind of magic in the smell of the inside of that building and just the honor of being in the presence of so many wonderful books. My little school library had not been able to keep me interested in their limited offerings so one of my dear aunts took me to the “big one” in Decatur and thus began a lifelong love of libraries. Although I too was not able to attend college I’ve been able to self educate myself through a myriad of great books over the past 70 years and I’m so grateful to have found your writings to add to my list. So nice to add another person to my list of great Southern writers.
pattymack - March 23, 2022 7:16 pm
As a former children’s librarian, I thank you for your kind thoughts and the reassurance that my work at that time was not in vain.
Monica Darrah - March 23, 2022 7:33 pm
Reading this, I can smell the books. Hug a librarian today, and blow a kiss to the Dewey Decimal System. 😘
When I was young I dreamed of some day being a librarian. When you come from a family of 8 children and 2 adults in a small house the quiet smell of a linoleum floored library is very appealing. There are adventures and other worlds real and imagined between the vanilla pages of stitched-bound books. 📖
I also wanted to live in a lighthouse, but that’s a story for another day.
Linda Moon - March 23, 2022 8:25 pm
Just below your new post in my inbox today was “New York Times Nonfiction Bestsellers”, sent from my local library. So which one, you may be be thinking, did I open first? I’ll leave that for you to ponder. I spent lots of time in Birmingham Public Library when I lived downtown with my Aunt Polly. “Underprivileged” was what my childhood family could have been called, but my many aunts made it less so. Now, I’m virtually doting on you. You are both gifted AND talented. God bless those librarians! And don’t lose your card.
Janine Langston - March 23, 2022 9:29 pm
As the director of the Birmingham Public Library, let me be the second person to welcome you to the Birmingham Public Library! I am honored to serve alongside such wonderfully dedicated team members. Your words inspire us to continue striving each day to fulfill our mission to provide the highest quality experience to the community for lifelong learning, cultural enrichment, and enjoyment. I hope you visit the Birmingham Public Library often, whether in person or virtually, and take advantage of the materials and resources available to you with your new library card.
Kendal - March 23, 2022 9:30 pm
This white-haired public librarian thanks you ~ it’s been 36 years since I began my career and because of readers and patrons like you, my work has value each & every day. We are as thankful for our communities as you are for us. Covid was a challenge, but we found ways to reach our readers!
Page Robertson - March 23, 2022 10:19 pm
The best thing to know is LIBBY. You can download any of their thousands of audio books FOR FREE! You and other famous authors keep me company as I walk my 3 miles each AM…at 80 years.
Steve McCaleb - March 24, 2022 12:05 am
Most kids today have never been in a library…takes too much effort. Plus it would be hard to work in time to read something when you deduct the seven and a half years the average American spends during their lifetime staring at a stupid cellphone. When they write the epitaph of the fall of American Civilization the demise will be shown to be the invention of the internet and the cell phone. Sad…very very sad.
Linda Holmes - March 24, 2022 12:07 am
When I read the title Library Cards, I knew this had to be a goody. Thank you for reminding me of wonderful days with my friend at the library. Our sixth grade teacher wisely chose her and me to be our class librarians. Every two weeks we were able to go out to the Bookmobile and choose books for our class. From that we graduated to The Library that summer. One of our parents would drive us and we checked out seven books apiece due back in two weeks. After seven days, we swapped books, a book a day! We continue this for the remainder of our school days, finally getting drivers license. As adults, we would meet at Smith and Hardwick’s Bookstore on our lunch hour and plow through old and new books. We loved all of it, the stacks of books, the smell, the feel of the pages and covers. I wish you could have been there, 1934-2004. Bhamwiki.
Marcia Garrison - March 24, 2022 1:47 am
Dear Sean, I read your blog every day. I listened to you once in an Alabama church. I moved to TX, but am moving back to AL in a month. This post touched me deeply! Retired HS English teacher. Never stop writing! 🙏
Clint Roberson - March 24, 2022 3:07 am
Sean….. I got my first library card at 5 years old,as well. The public library was my world during my childhood. My first job was at 6 years old. I would go to the post office from the library on my bike and get the mail. The librarian, a young bookworm named Ms Libbie, paid me a dollar every time. My mother never knew this until I was grown. The public library in my town was the hub of youth culture. We would meet there, fight there, and hang out there. It was wonderful.
Thank you for sharing with the world your writings. I look forward to them often.
Lisa Miller - March 24, 2022 3:13 am
Mrs. Trombley took our first grade class from PS 63 on a field trip to the Fairfield Library in Buffalo, NY in 1965. We each received our first library cards. It felt as good as a driver’s license does to a 16 year old. When we were old enough, my friend and I would walk to the Kensington Library on Saturday and check out as many books as we could. There was nothing better than spending a rainy summer afternoon on our sleeping porch with a new book. When I had my children, the Mountain Brook library was a source of endless, free entertainment. My son, at five, could find all the books on his favorite subjects, alternately snakes and trucks. I helped our children’s librarian, Miss Lucia, with story time. When substituting at the elementary school, my favorite post was in the library, helping kids find a book they’d like that would have the required “points” for their reading level. I have a giant and always growing collection of books, but still love our library and carry my card as proudly as the one I got in the first grade. The best gift a parent or teacher can give a child is a love for reading. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story! It brought back sweet memories!
Elaine Walizer - March 24, 2022 6:41 am
Every place I have lived, I have registered to vote and gotten mylibrary card! Priorities! When our family moved to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, ( from West Germany!) in 1954, I was told that Army families did not need a card. Biggest disappointment of my life! Nevertheless, that was my first Carnegie Library–the beginning of a lifelong collection. Since you might take a vacation sometime, let me recommend Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It’s little jewel box of a Carnegie Library is worth a worshipful visit. Trust me. And there are no two alike! Read all about them. You won’t be sorry.
suzi - March 24, 2022 10:59 am
WHAT YOU SAID 📚💛
Susan Hansen - March 24, 2022 4:14 pm
I realized I had a flair for research in the third and fourth grade. My school librarian, Mrs. Puolia, was kind and very open to all kinds of inquiries. I loved school for this very reason. A research paper became my avenue to explore what never knew about myself, as an adopted kid. I researched my own roots and found out a lot about myself from the very beginning of elementary school to today as I still research Ancestry in the Public Library. This was the first stage of becoming a librarian in Syracuse, NY.
CELIA E. HARBIN - March 24, 2022 6:03 pm
Librarians are wonderful. I love the smell of a Library, too.
This was a marvelous piece you wrote today.
Chasity Davis Ritter - March 24, 2022 11:24 pm
My aunt Donna has been the children’s librarian in my town for over 20 years. She retired a couple of months back to go work for our Route 66 museum now greeting tourists coming down the mother road. Although she loved it and loved it with all her heart it was time for a change. There are many in this town who I’m sure owe part of their love of reading to her. However, she did so much more than just check out books. She organized so many different and wonderful events down town at that little library every year like the make and take Valentine party, American girls tea party, the summer reading program with guest speakers and fun things like the firemen and police men coming with their vehicles for the kids to see and the people from the OKC zoo that brought some small petable animals and scary things like tarantulas. There was always the most wonderful Halloween parties and carnivals that I myself have attended or helped with personally for the last 46 years. And of course Santa comes every year too and just even more I don’t have the space to mention It was a big undertaking and so truly important to the kiddos and young mothers of our little town. You have to have an amazing amount of love with some big doses of patience mixed in to do that kind of job year after year. I mean at least teachers get an occasional Apple or maybe Christmas presents. Librarians are just kinda expected to be there, but oh thank you Lord for those that give their lives to it. To those very precious soles who make this silent difference in so very many lives. I’m glad you never let us forget about them ❤️
Tim - March 26, 2022 12:40 pm
I’m proud to say my mother was the volunteer librarian for 30+ years at my Catholic grade school in MD. (Everyone just assumed she was in a paid full time position)
Upon her death in 1999, the dedicated the library to her and it’s now known as the Doris Doyle Memorial library.
Love you Doris!
Susan H Akers - March 27, 2022 12:54 am
Dear Sean- my dear friend Danny (see March 23 @ 2:07!) has given me many reasons to be glad and introducing me to your posts may just be at the top of the list! You are one of a kind and I’m another fan (above the Mason Dixon line) marveling at how you choose and put together your words so magically. My aunt and great aunt were both librarians and although I went for teaching it enabled me to stay close to librarians… and now, retired, I work parttime in a municipal library. Saturdays are my favorite day as families of all sorts stream in for story hour and saunter up and down the aisles selecting what grabs their fancy… and I do believe they judge many a book by its cover and there’s nothing wrong with that! Speaking of the Dewey decimal system, my great aunt Susan Grey Akers earned a Ph D in library science and wrote a book about “Simple Cataloging” ( as part of Roosevelt’s WPA program) that was provided to rural communities allowing those without trained librarians to set up their own libraries. She was Dean of the School of Library Science at U of NC at Chapel Hill and also traveled to then Persia and Tokyo as a library consultant. I imagine her smiling broadly at your story as she pursued her library career with a love for bringing books to people of all walks and ages.
Thank you for what you do seemingly so effortlessly and for the great joy you give us readers. When Danny forwards one of your posts it’s like a delicious dessert has been served and I dig in without counting calories! Speaking of writing, my dad was born in Birmingham and his father’s ( Arthur K Akers) stories are part of the Birmingham Library’s Southern Writers Collection. Most are now very un-pc so best left in the archives but I hope you too discover the city fertile ground for continuing to spin your special magic. God, how the world needs more of how and what you write! Thank you!
Carla - March 27, 2022 3:06 am
I love the smell of books, and as a kid my dream was to drive the book mobile. LoL. My now 18 y.o nephew came to live with me when he was 2 1/2. He didn’t know me very well, and I struggled to think how I could bond with him, and help him feel secure. We started at the library, checking out books, attending the children’s programs, etc. One day when he was almost 4, we walked in the door and he said to me, “The library smells so good!” Mission accomplished! He became a voracious reader, and we created so many memories through our love of books. Three years ago, you were the guest at our arts council dinner, and he was my date. 🙂
Barbara Patterson - March 27, 2022 12:08 pm
In my box of memories is my first library card. I saved my son’s- it’s in his baby book. We got it when he was 3. When I was a kid, we moved to “the country”. The blessing was the Bookmobile! My brother & I devoured books over summer break. What a treat. My very astute mother’s rule: finish your chores, then you can read & read we did! My son continues his love affair with books. Your post was so enjoyable! Thanks
Herta Bardenhagen - March 27, 2022 6:26 pm
Sean you inspire to always read. I am almost 87 and read every evening and half the night because of pain. Every 3 hrs I take a prescribed pain pill and read for 2-3 hrs. Reading takes me into the lives of the story. I read the gospels in church because I am told what a good reader I am. I feel joy, sadness, pain and all feelings. My daughter introduced me to you on Facebook and enjoy every word. Thank you. Herta Bardenhagen
Mary Ann B - March 28, 2022 1:08 pm
I, too, was that kid. Too small and too smart for my age, and an “assistant babysitter” for my younger siblings, the library was my world in many ways in that small West Texas town. My proudest moment was when the librarian let me check out several books from the adult section. Now Gene Stratton Porter wasn’t exactly pornographic, but she opened a new world to me. My shelves hold a good collection of her works today. Check out “Freckles,” “A Girl of the Limberlost” and her photography, amazing for that time, in “Birds of the Bible,” among others. Books are miracles, you know, if you’re open to them. Thank you for the memories today!
David - March 28, 2022 11:29 pm
Sean – next time you’re at the downtown library, go upstairs to the skywalk & take it to the old library. It’s otherworldly, in the best way possible.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 29, 2022 4:19 am
Ruth Winter - March 29, 2022 2:53 pm
I love this story. As a kid in a family that had many corporate transfers, the library was always my first friend in each new town. I was a career librarian. I’m pleased to say I’ve worked for the past few years to get our statewide school “media” association to reclaim its library roots. As of 2023 we will once again be the Michigan Association of School LIBRARIANS MASL. I love the word LIBRARY and all it represents. So silly of schools to have lost their minds for 50 years to shun the word library as out of date and opting for the word media instead. Happy days are here again.
Rene - March 29, 2022 5:41 pm
You have no idea how you help me!!
Judy Riley - March 29, 2022 6:36 pm
I just read your ‘Library Card’ podcast. I consider myself a good judge of character….and you are a “character”! You had nine self descriptions in this one…..aimless kid, doubts himself, low confidence, underprivileged, shipwreck, lost boy, love child, talented and when I summed all those up…..I saw “SURVIVOR”!! I’m sure you have used that one also. A survivor with a huge talent about the size of that titanic tater floating across the country! You are able to make people smile and laugh with your written word…that also is huge! I am always so happy to know you ended up with a girl like “your Jamie”! You are so good for each other……and you just keep doing what she tells you to do…listen to her…she loves you. (I have met you both in my little town of Marianna and you both are “good people” and “love the Lord” as we say in my little town.)
suzi - April 25, 2022 2:28 am