If my family has a motto, it is certainly, “You can never have too many books.” As a bookworm, my native environment has always been in libraries.
When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time at the library in my hometown. I know I started going when I was very young because by kindergarten, I could check out my own large stacks of picture books using the four digit code of my mother’s library card, which I’d memorized. By first grade, the kindly librarian felt I had demonstrated sufficient responsibility to be given my own library card, whose number I apparently still have memorized: 7204. Possibly that was also a recognition of the volume of books I was borrowing on a weekly basis.
As I grew older, the library became a place where I could wait for a ride home after ballet lessons or handbell choir. Although I now don’t consider 15 minutes to be much of a drive at all, in a small town where people walked many places and I regularly walked from school to downtown, that was quite a hike, and it was good to have a safe and dry place to wait. The Huntington Library was in an enormous old house that had wonderful window seats, odd rooms, and back doors to investigate, so even the building itself leant itself to imagination of a growing child and young girl.
In junior high and high school, I had a friend, Kathy, who did some of the same activities that I did and lived close to my house, so our parents would take turns picking up both of us. Kathy and I had a favorite game in the young adult room called, “Pick a shelf.” We took turns selecting a shelf, and we would count up how many books each of us had read. Whoever had the highest tally won that shelf. The Nancy Drew shelf was always a toss-up since both of us had read the entire series, but the few Hardy Boys books (on the same shelf) we had read were different, which could break the tie. I was always sure to win the F shelf with the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley, but to this day, I have never read the Anne of Green Gables books because Kathy already had such a lock on the Lucy Maud Montgomery shelf that it didn’t seem worth the effort. The game did encourage me to branch out and read some random new books since if our parental ride was running late and we got well into the game, a shelf could be won by having read a single book.
I have obviously grown up and moved away, but to this day, there is an element of homecoming when I enter a library even for the first time.
I knew that I had chosen my apartment in DC well when I realized that my local library is about a five minute walk away. It’s a small branch library, but what it may lack in onsite selection, it more than makes up for in one of the speediest interlibrary loan programs I have ever encountered. I have been ordering a steady stream of books since I arrived, and I’m feeling particularly virtuous that I haven’t paid for hardcopies, and I won’t have those extra books to move back to Connecticut with me. I still have the sense of treasure to be discovered in that building, and even after only a few short months, the librarians seem to recognize me as a frequent visitor. I recently ended up in line behind other people because the first person was just getting her new library card. The rest of us seemed undisturbed by the wait, each of us understanding the value of that new card as a gateway to information and adventures. I get as much pleasure out of my DC library card as I did from 7204.
I was enchanted to discover that in addition to the DC public library system and the Library of Congress, that the Senate itself also has a library that happens to be in the Russell Senate Office building where I work. It was a library- I had a personal mission to investigate.
On the afternoon of Election Day, when the action was at the polls rather than in the Senate, I took advantage of a tour given by one of the reference librarians. I certainly have the capacity to find my way around a library, but considering the unusual nature of the Senate library’s holdings, it was a virtue to have a native guide. One of my fellow Fellows obviously had the same idea since we were two of the three people on the tour. Our guide was a quintessential librarian, and as he described the resources, I felt that we were being introduced to his friends. He would affectionately stroke the bindings of the books or pick one out with the ease of long familiarity and read us a random snippet.
The Senate library focuses on the history, procedures, and resources of the Senate, and the reference librarians are magnificent at helping track down even the vaguest of requests with alacrity. I was charmed to discover that the holdings go beyond bills and laws to include a broader scope of materials that are of value to Senators and their staffs. For example, there is a selection of books on CD for people traveling between homes and the Capitol as well as travel books for the states and for foreign countries. The library also has fiction books or history books that relate to Washington or the Senate in some way. Books written by the Senators, regardless of the genre, are included as well. In addition to Sen. Byrd’s multi-volume history of the senate, it has Sen. Al Franken’s books. Sen. Mikulski and Boxer have each written a few novels, not coincidentally featuring female Senators, and Sen. Clinton’s works are represented both through her biographies and through the book she wrote on the White House pets when she was First Lady. My Senate badge serves as my library card, and I just had to check out a book or two to test the system.
It made me smile to realize that even in this important governmental building, I was able to walk in and still sense that invitingly comfortable library feeling of a bookworm in her native environment. Since it resides in the oldest of the Senate office buildings, the library also has some of those classic nooks and crannies to hide out and find a little peace and quiet. I have no lack of privacy in my office, but I almost want to have some distractions so I’ll have the excuse to decamp to the library, cozy up in a comfy chair, and lose myself, even if it’s a report on energy policy rather than Nancy Drew.