Libraries Changed My Life

When I was a kid, I never liked reading. I didn’t mind being read-to, at night, by my mother, it made me feel safe and loved, but I found reading tedious and a chore. However, I always loved going to libraries. I loved the anticipation and joy of sorting through and choosing books. I loved the smell of the library, like a musty vanilla candle lighting the day. I loved the feeling of history in the library, and even as a kid, I understood the power of information latent in books.

When I was a teenager, I loved reading. I read everywhere, in-school, in-class, on-the-bus, at night-in-my-room listening to music. Libraries became a place of refuge for me. I didn’t really like people. They made me feel nervous and awkward. The world-at-large made me feel nervous. I felt like everyone wanted something from me, except the library. The library always wanted to give, never take. I found great comfort being surrounded by books. I would sneak off to the library and stay there for hours, when I felt anxious or things were bad at home. I would go to the library after-school and just read, or write, while my friends were getting high in the park. Books, and only books, allowed me to feel safe — they were all I trusted and molded me into the adult I am.

As a young adult, I would go to libraries three-or-four-times a week,

to use the Internet, because there was a time I couldn’t afford it for my home. I would do my homework, search and apply for jobs, peruse my social media. Every time I entered the library I felt safe — that old musty vanilla smell welcomed me back. I felt like home. I always feel like I’m at home in a library.

Today, I don’t visit the library much.  I buy books, can afford the Internet. I don’t have children, but if I did, and when I do, I will be spending more time in the library. But today, because of the library, I write books. Today, because of the library, I lecture and deconstruct literature to hundreds of Miami students per year. Although trips to the library have declined, I schedule my office hours in our school library. I do this because I love libraries. They’ll always make me feel safe. They’ll always make me feel at home. And just the idea of closing one single library makes me want to cry. We should be opening more libraries, not closing them. We should be cutting ribbons, not hanging “For Lease” signs.

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J.J. Colagrande

Has written about Miami culture for almost twenty years, first with The Miami Herald, then Miami New Times and Huffington Post. He's the publisher of The Jitney and a full-time professor.