This past April, we celebrated the publication of The Body in the Wardrobe, the 23rd in Katherine Hall Page’s Faith Fairchild series. She has also published for middle grade and YA readers as well as a collection of short stories, Small Plates (2014), and a series cookbook, Have Faith in your Kitchen (Orchises Press). She has been awarded Agathas for Best First, Best Novel, and Best SS and also was nominated for additional Agathas, an Edgar, Macavity, Mary Higgins Clark and the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She is the recipient of Malice Domestic 28th’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Today, Katherine has stopped by to share why libraries mean so much to her.
I’m just back from walking to the local library, a pleasant mile round trip along the main street of my small suburban Boston town. The lilacs have passed their peak, but the dogwood and rhodies are in full bloom. I recently realized that I have been fortunate enough to live within walking distance of libraries in all the places I have lived during my adult life. I’d like to say that I chose dwellings based on their proximity to my favorite place—the library—but it has been pure luck or we could call it kismet.
This trip was to consult with the reference library about research I’m doing on mid-twentieth century Broadway musicals and their producers as background for the book I’m writing next. Yes, I could go into the Minuteman network and search the catalog or Google various sources on my home computer, but Laura is a wizard at this stuff (hence her job) and it’s so much more fun to do a search with her. It also has the added benefit of getting me out of the house. When I speak to school groups, I tell kids if they want to be writers, they have to like to be alone and indoors a lot.
We found a number of books and thanks to more magic—interlibrary loan—I’ll walk back and pick them up in a few days. Thank you Laura! Anyone who says there is no need for living, breathing librarians—that it can all be handled by communicating with a central entity online (I picture HAL)—is simply wrong, and has not read one of my favorite books: Marilyn Johnson’s This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.
Having accomplished my task, I returned slightly weighted down with books—this is known among library aficionados as “Checkout Syndrome”. Happily there isn’t a cure and it simply means that no matter how many volumes are piled next to your bed or on the floor near your desk, if you enter a library, you will always find several more must reads. This time it was a D.E. Stevenson I had somehow missed, or didn’t recall, the new Bill Bryson and the last book in Rita Garcia-Williams Newbery Honor and other award winning series, One Crazy Summer. My reading takes me across the ages, and for all ages.
So, I was walking along, ignoring the pollen count, and began to count all the library cards I have had in my life. Try it. It’s fun to think back. My very first one was a small stiff piece of orange cardboard from the Livingston, NJ library, which was in an old farmhouse until I was in high school. When you could sign your own name, you could have your own card. This was a childhood milestone and even getting a driver’s license years later paled in comparison. It meant you could take your books to be checked out with those revolving, very inky date stamps for the slips in the back pocket all by yourself. In the library in Maine where we live in the summer, a card in that pocket also used to tell you who had read the particular volume before you—each was signed out to a name by hand. Kind of like a biblio party line.
Then came those cards with the little metal rectangles embossed with your card number. Very high tech, but I always thought unattractive. Next plastic cards, the number under laminate. My library is now in the process of converting to bar code scanners so we can check books out ourselves like the self serve at CVS or the market. I know it’s not going to be wildly popular in my particular town where many people are still mastering the ATM. And besides, it will take away those all-important face-to-face encounters depending on how busy the front desk is. Like the general stores of another era, the library is a central gathering place, no matter the size of the population.
I’ve saved all my cards, although that first one disappeared—am thinking Mom the Declutterer. They remind me of each place. Large ones like Boston’s Public Library in Copley Square and Harvard’s Widener. Small ones—Maine’s Chase Emerson and Blue Hill libraries.
Carded. More than 68% of Americans have one—a privilege and a treasure. Go use it today!
Thanks, Katherine! The Body in the Wardrobe—the latest delightful entry in the beloved mystery series, complete with delectable recipes—is available now, so definitely make sure to check it out!