One of the most common questions I’ve asked about the Haunted Library (in the three weeks it's been out!) is why a library? Why not a house? Or a school? The answer to that question is the subject this post.
The easy answer is: because I LOVE libraries. But that may be understating it.
My love for libraries began in childhood. I was kind of a lonely kid. I didn’t spend a lot of time with other kids; I spent my time in the library. Reading and writing stories. The library was my refuge. My safe harbor. From the library I could go ANYWHERE…inside the pages of a good book.
One of my favorite books was E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler. Claudia and I were kindred spirits, except I didn’t want to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I wanted to live in the library.
I got a job as a library page when I was 15. Finally, I had an opportunity to play out that From the Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler fantasy. My best friend had moved away, so I had nothing better to do on a Saturday night than hang out in the library.
No one at the library had any idea I was doing this. The adult I worked with locked up at closing and went out the back door. I headed toward the front door as though I was really leaving, but as soon as I heard the back door latch, I went back into the work room, where I hung out the rest of the night. I ate my dinner there. I read. Sometimes I watched a movie. But mostly I wrote. I wrote pages and pages and pages on my “novel.” I would’ve slept there, too, but I had to be home by midnight. This went on for well over a year.
Then one night, someone drove by and saw the light on in the back room. They also thought they saw someone moving around in the library. So first they called Mr. Picken, who was the library director. Mr. Picken assumed someone had broken into the library, so he called the police.
One of the officers went to the front door in case the “burglar” went out that way. The other officer waited in the back alley for Mr. Picken to come with the key. I was completely oblivious to all of this. But I will never forget the sound of that back door opening, the flashlight, and the voice that called out, “Police! Is anyone here?”
The only person there was…me.
Mr. Picken asked if I was scheduled to work on Monday. I was. He said we would talk about this before my shift. And then he sent me home.
It was a horrible, horrible weekend. I was so scared I was going to lose this job that I loved. And I didn’t see myself as the sort of person who would ever get fired from a job. Even worse, how could I ever even set foot in the library again if they fired me?
But I wasn’t fired. Mr. Picken was very nice about the whole thing. He asked me how many times I’d hung out in the library by myself after closing. I uh…may have SLIGHTLY underestimated the number of times I’d done this. By about thirty or so. Next he wanted to know what I was doing in the library. I told him I was writing stories. He smiled and said, “One day when you’re a writer, this is going to make a nice story for you to tell.” [How did he know???] “But you can’t stay at the library after closing. You need to go home.” And for weeks after that, someone always made sure that I really did leave at closing.
I’ve continued to write in the library as an adult, only now I do it when the library is open. J
The library “saved” me when I was a kid. It gave me a place to belong.
I also believe the library saved my older son. Our local library staff took an interest in him. They talked to him…they offered him volunteer work…they even gave him a job when he was old enough. He found a place to belong at the library just like I did.
I’m so grateful to both the Martin County Library and to the Coralville Public Library for their roles they played in my life and my son’s life that I’ve always felt a strong desire to give back to the library. I’ve helped with MANY library book sales and events… I’ve led teen writers’ workshops…I’ve facilitated book discussion groups for kids…I helped establish a reading with therapy dogs program…I’ve even served as President of the Friends of the Library. More than once. But it’s never felt like enough.
If you go into a library and look around, you’ll see the library kids. The kids like my son and me. They still hang out at the library. The library is still a refuge. It still saves kids.
And I would still like to live in a library. Like Claire in my series.
So THAT’S why the Haunted Library and not the Haunted House or the Haunted School or the Haunted Anything Else.