Once a Library, Always a Library

This is not officially or technically true, save for in my heart.  I was born in Adelaide a couple of decades ago, and the local library there factored quite prominently in my early life.  The first immunisation I can remember was given to me in a building either attached to or near the library; as the needle went in I was staring out the window at the same leafy greeny ferns and plants that were visible through the glass windows in the children’s section.

The first thing I remember my mother sewing for me was a quilted squishy drawstring library bag that I still have in my posession.  Just large enough to fit a small sized picture book, I was allowed to borrow as many books as I could fit in it.  I remember this though I cannot recall my first library visit; libraries were just as taken for granted as mothers and Play School and bananas.

We moved from Adelaide when I was quite young.  I grew up to know many other libraries, read many well-loved books.  My first library itself was relocated into a cultural center and the old building repurposed by local government somehow.  Life moved on, and I didn’t spare much time or thought for the library.

Last December I travelled back to Adelaide for the first time in years, to attend a conference at Flinders University.  Though some buildings and sights were familiar – the sound of the birds, the taste of the air – many things were different.  Water quality, some streets and landmarks, and the empty spaces in the central shopping centres.  I recognised a lot of places and even some people, but one day on a whim I happened back to my old suburb.  I had lunch at the old mall, and on my way back into the city I caught a glimpse of my old library.

It was different, had been fixed up and maintained and re-branded with new signs.  But I have never felt a stronger sense of place or homecoming in my life.  I suddenly understood all nostalgia for architecture and place and geography, all attachment to cultural heritage.  Although previously I could recognise the attachments that others had to their ancestry or birthplace or traditional lands, I had never felt that ache and longing inside myself.  It’s impossible to put words to, this significance and value that echoes in the very core of a person.

I’ll never be able to tell if I became a bookish person by having such intense feelings about this library, or if I had such feelings about the library because I was a bookish person, but I know that what was once a library in my heart will always be a library, no matter what actually happens to the books or the building.

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