Better than ever

I can’t claim an exceptional reading list during my childhood years, but I’m fairly certain the exemplar below will be familiar to other girls/women who were born in the 1950s:

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series
  • Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Eight Cousins series
  • L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  • Stratemeyer Syndicate series such as Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins; I’m sure I even strayed into their boy-oriented Hardy Boys series when I exhausted more girlish fare

I enjoyed each of these books, some of them several times over, but what I value most about my childhood reading experience is the memories of our town’s public library. The library’s unique scent, a compound of aging paper, dust, damp, and heat, was distinctive and inviting. The children’s section, for me, was a treasure trove of information, mystery, and adventure, allowing me to travel far and wide even though our family rarely ventured more than 20 miles from home.

Planning for the Dickinson (North Dakota) public library began in 1908. Like many libraries of the time, its construction was a grassroots effort that started with a letter from the town’s library board to Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie’s $12,500 grant funded the building’s construction. The original 1,000 or so books were donated by local organizations while a municipal “library tax” funded the library’s operation. The library opened to the public in January 1910.

The library has had three additions to the original structure, now totaling some 24,000 square feet of library and function space. Situated on a corner lot, the 21st century library presents two facades. The historic entrance, topped with the building’s construction date and public library notation, retains the original staircase. Carnegie lore is that the staircase symbolizes a person’s elevation by learning. Meanwhile, the new facade features an accessible entry via the Friends of the Library Garden Plaza.

Dickinson Library

Inside, the woodwork and tin ceilings of the 1908 structure have been restored and the original fireplace has been converted to gas logs. Stained glass windows and a birdcage-style elevator enhance the historic appeal of the building. Modern amenities include computer access, security system and surveillance cameras, and a ground-source heating system.

Is it any wonder that I love Carnegie libraries in general and this one in particular? I’m also extremely proud that visionaries in my hometown crafted this extraordinary and heartwarming mix of old and new.

Posted in conjunction with Book of Me, a continuing project to compile a personal history based on one’s unique responses to a series of weekly prompts.

6 thoughts on “Better than ever

  1. The Little House books have been my favourites since I discovered them at the age of nine. I have worked in a Carnegie library..very special

  2. I share your love of libraries! I have been in two Carnegie libraries, both beautiful! We were a one car family when I was growing up so we were unable to go to the library. We were fortunate enough that the Book Mobile stopped right across the street from us once a month. I loved to step up the stairs into the air-conditioned bus and pick out a book!

  3. Wanda, Thank you, for that wonderful post. I started reading when I was in Jr High, and rarely if ever when to the public libraries available to me, but on those rare occasions that I did venture into the library it was exactly how you described it, as I read your words, the memories of the odors, smells, warmth and moisture all came to mind immediately. The Dickinson Library is a beautiful building, reminding me of many of the state capitals Steph and I have visited. Again thank you for exposing this wonderful place to me. Please take care, Bill

  4. Some of your books were on my list, too, along with many others. But would you believe that I only just read Little Women and Girl of the Limberlost for the first time within the past month? I too have fond memories of public libraries both as a child and adult and have spent more happy hours there than I can count. The best part is that I can indulge my reading habit without guilt – with no worries about breaking my budget or expanding my bookshelves. Your library is beautiful and I love the way it’s been maintained and restored, while still growing to keep pace with the demands of the modern world.

  5. How wonderful that the original beauty of the library has been maintained and updated for a new life. I have always been a reader – going to the library every two weeks with my Dad – so I have fond memories of our little local library and what a positive impact reading has had upon my life.

  6. What a wonderful building – a real temple to books. And I recognise that list :). I discovered also The Girl of the Limberlost (not at all widely read here) and finally got a copy a few years ago from the States.

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