The Liberal Missouri Public Library was our babysitter for a few years when we were young. Our mom worked at Citizens Bank of Liberal, later Farmers State Bank, next door, so my sister and I would walk to the library after school and wait patiently for Mom to drive us home. We greatly preferred this over taking the school bus.
The librarian was a family friend and distant relative, as many people in this town of fewer than 700 people were, and she was always happy to keep an eye on us for a few hours. The library was never very busy, but usually had a few old people reading books in large print, which was one of the largest sections of the library. My grandfather was fond of large print versions of westerns by Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey.
The building that housed the library was old, by midwestern standards, built around the turn of the 20th century of sandstone hewn from local quarries. Our family has ties to this area dating back before the founding of Liberal in 1881 by the eccentric lawyer and Civil War veteran George Walser. Much has been written about this odd town, but that’s not the subject of this blog, so I won’t get into it here, but suffice it to say that it had a very interesting and unique origin.
One of the main attractions for me was the library’s collection of Hardy Boys books. I read every one of them several times. Eventually I was reading so quickly I would finish a book within hours and wait impatiently to return to the library to resupply. The books were old and in poor condition, with broken spines, dog-eared yellowed pages, and some were even missing a few pages, but that didn’t bother me much, thirsty as I was for the written word.
Today my sister is a librarian herself, and I am an unapologetic book nerd and writer. These formative years of library time must have ingrained a love of books in us that has weathered the test of time. What a wonderful and privileged upbringing we had! These days, libraries are easy targets for budget-cutting philistines, which is a tragedy. A culture that destroys its libraries is no culture at all. I hope we don’t deprive our future generations of this wonderful privilege.