Libraries, for me, are a mixed bag of attitudes and emotions. My earliest library memory involves visiting an upstairs attic children’s section where I looked for my favorite series as a first grader–Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books. I can still conjure the light dusting through the window, the car waiting outside, and the sense of privilege and fun I felt going there and being allowed to take a prized book home.

Then of course there is the next recollection, my frequent use of the Kailua Public Library in Kailua where I grew up. It was more after school stop than study ground, convenient for telling parents we were doing homework and not where we really were, across the street at 7-11 eating nachos and drinking Slurpees. Of course I did check out books on occasion, only I kept forgetting to return them, all throughout high school, racking up the fines so that I never took out another book for fear of getting yelled at by the librarians (why I never simply paid them escapes me as well. I can only chalk it up to being a teenager). Years later, while back in Kailua studying for the GREs, I checked out some study aids and meant–honestly meant–to return them on time. But alas, I was late. I’m sure my fines for that transgression accumulate still, and so I have never been back–adolescent fear still winning out over reason and cents.

In college my library experiences were wholly positive, however. And when the surrounding library–one that resembled an old manor house den, with cramped and creaking upper shelves looking out on the reading cafes got too crowded and noisy, I would retreat to Morrison Library–my department’s official chairs, desks and sofas below (see photo at right, of a mysterious reception held there). No one ever spoke a word there (though naps weren’t uncommon), but you’d sometimes try to spot friends or cute boys to sit by. And when it was serious study time, I fled to the Doe Library stacks, its cold florescence imparting notes of officialness and always including endless nights without sleep.

Then during graduate school in England, before the British Library changed its policy, you had to prove that there were housed books you could not find elsewhere, or else you could not gain access to its collection or quiet research rooms. So prove I did, for I was researching Hawaiian myths and songs in England–who else would have the books I needed? And so I gained a prized possession–a British Library entrance card, which later my grandfather (who also had one) bragged about to ourselves. [Photo at right linked to the very informative and helpful research site Mahalo!]

Today, in my current rented abode, I have a wall of shelves (see right and top) that I covet even though they are not mine. Books arrive at my door nearly daily these days, and it’s a regular occurrence that they pile above the shelves, in the cracks, and even in nearby bags ready to sell or give away–forced to cull because I am running out of space. But without them nearby I feel bereft, and somewhere in these shelves, in the ordering and sections, I am revealed.

Like my own self-devised fingerprint.