Imagine having this entire library – the entire building – all to yourself, except for two friendly librarians. For anyone like me who loves to read and write, it's heaven!
Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, a 10-minute walk from our house, is closed to in-person classes for the fall semester due to Covid-19. The students who would be walking between buildings, stretched out in grassy spaces, sitting around tables sipping coffee and discussing the meaning of life, are virtually absent. They zoom in and out without leaving a trace.
Desperately needing a place to write that is not our dining table, kitchen island or bed, I emailed Britt Murphy, the head librarian, on the off chance that she or her colleagues might be working in the actual library. If so, could I possibly come twice a week, sit in a quiet corner – with my mask on – and write? She wrote back, "We are open! Monday–Friday, 8-5. We'd love to have you." I literally jumped for joy.
I dusted off my computer bag, filled it with laptop, journal, favorite pink gel pen, water bottle and reading glasses. I laid out clothes, which were not my regular "pandemic inspired" jogging pants or leggings. At 9:00 o'clock the next morning, I walked to the library with purpose in my steps, like it was my first day on a new job.
I sit here today in the philopshy section writing my blog, not another person on the second floor. I can barely hear Britt and fellow librarian Amy talking downstairs. If not for their voices, I would think that thousands of books and I were totally alone.
Another day I choose to sit in the sunshine, allowing its warmth to transport me to another sunny day almost 60 years in the past. I write about helping my grandmother pin sheets and pillowcases to her backyard clothesline – a book of memories in the making.
When I need a break, I wander through the shelves until l arrive at my favorite spot in the library, the Juvenile Fiction section. I select the same book I've been reading for several days, a few chapters at a time – Autumn Street by Lois Lowry.
Since books can't be checked out of the library now, I'm content to cozy up in the blue rocker and find out what happens next to Elizabeth and her family, as World War II changes all their lives. Then I slip the book back precisely in place, until next time.
I return to my spot for a final edit when I see two masked young women coming up the staircase. We wave. I notice their backpacks and a thick, textbookish tome one of them is carrying. REAL students! As appreciative as I am for the library's solitude, I'm more pleased with the company. LIbraries are meant to be shared, and hopefully soon, Bailey Library will welcome us all.