Time spent at library still brings joy

Monday, March 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:45 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

I’ve never walked into a library that I didn’t like. And I was especially pleased last week with my first visit to Columbia’s new library, where I talked to some of my readers. I was reminded of the day as a teenager when I first set eyes on the Kansas City Public Library and thought I was in heaven. While touring the juvenile section in the Columbia library, I remembered how anxious I was when my son got his first library card and the number of times I prevailed on him to check out children’s mystery books for me to read because I was embarrassed that I still enjoyed them long after I grew into adulthood. Since I have spent a major portion of my life in libraries, I have a lot of those kinds of memories, and I’m convinced that people I meet in libraries are some of the most interesting people in the world.

As if I needed an excuse, my next visit to my local public library was to attend a book sale. Now, the last thing I need, of course, is one more book. But I found several that I couldn’t live without. My favorite in this stash was a reprint of a book called “The American Frugal Housewife” by Mrs. Child, otherwise known as Lydia Maria Child. According to the introduction written by Alice Geffen, Child published her first novel in 1823. She wrote the “Frugal Housewife” in 1829, and it went through 35 editions. This facsimile edition was reprinted from a copy found at an old book auction. In addition to her success as an author, In 1833, Child also wrote a book against slavery entitled, “An Appeal for that Class of Americans called Africans.” Later, she edited with her husband the “Anti-Slavery Standard” in New York.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this before I bought the book. I was merely intrigued by the title. The book contains recipes, household hints and first-aid remedies. I was particularly drawn to a section on the education of daughters, and one statement immediately caught my eye. Child suggests early in this essay “the situation and prospects of a country may be justly estimated by the character of its women.” Somehow, I wished that observation had been carved in stone and kept in trust for future generations, in which case I’m sure that by now we would have a female president.

At the beginning of the piece, Child puts forth the opinion that the education of young women in the mid-19th century was not good. She thought this was because the importance of getting married and gaining the “polite attention of gentlemen” was greatly exaggerated by the women’s teachers. While granting that parents wanting their daughters happily married and the young women sharing that desire was natural, she warned against “undue anxiety” and “foolish excitement” in the achieving of that goal. Not one to mince words, Child concluded that such women often married for the sake of marriage and wound up being bad mothers, aunts and friends. Rather than being taught to pursue matrimony, they should be instructed that “usefulness is happiness, and that all other things are but incidental.”

Child’s ideas on the education of young women probably earned her the same disregard as her views on slavery, for which she was shunned by her neighbors and friends. Nevertheless, I was proud to add this little volume to my collection. I am always amazed by the determination some women have had to forge ahead in life in spite of the efforts made to “keep them in their place.” Child went on to publish more than a dozen books, including “History of the Condition of Women,” before her death in 1880.

I also purchased another dictionary at the book sale. This one is an encyclopedic dictionary. Collecting dictionaries is one my addictions; I seem to have quite an assortment of them. When I was a child and ran out of books to read, my mother insisted that I read the dictionary. It’s a habit I still practice. I suppose I qualify as a compulsive reader. A friend likes to tell the story of the night when I was stranded because of weather in a motel room without any reading material and I read the 15-page customer guide in the telephone directory.

While I’m on the subject of libraries, I do need to say that my least favorite people are those who borrow books from the library and fail to return them. Several months ago, a rare history volume that is a favorite among many people was taken from our library and not brought back. Another item that has gone missing is a valuable folder containing railroad history.

Free access to public libraries is a privilege. Children who are taught to use the library early in life have a real advantage. Books are expensive, and for many people, borrowing them is the only way they can afford to enjoy them. So, be a good neighbor and citizen and return your library books on time. For a few pennies, you can buy all you want at the next book sale.

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