By Jeff Salter
Having spent some 30 years in the library profession, I guess I could write this column blindfolded — favorite memories of library visits. But there have been so many – most from my childhood and youth, long before my professional library life… but almost certainly nudging me toward it – that it’s difficult to select merely one or two.
So let me just begin with the overall understanding that I’ve loved books since I was a toddler. My parents read to me, and I learned to read early. Once I was reading, I took off and never looked back.
A memory from first grade was that my mom would put my baby sister in a little red wagon and walk to nearby downtown, where we would get needed items from grocery, drug store, hardware, and (often) the Covington Branch of the St. Tammany Parish Library. I loved going there and still remember some of the books I checked out. My mom would carry all those items, including the books, in the wagon behind little sister, back to our house.
One of the highlights of my third grade year was when my teacher, Miss Ray Netterville, took me and a few other kids who were good readers to the “big kid” library in Covington Elementary School … the one normally reserved for 4th and 5th graders. Gosh, did I feel important being allowed in that space!
Once I reached 4th and 5th grade, I read every biography I could find in that collection. Loved those biographies in the Bobbs-Merrill Childhood of Famous Americans series.
Fast forward a few years and I’m in Covington Junior High. Our speech teacher, Paul LaCroix, took (walked) our speech class to that same downtown public library branch and taught us how to use the Readers Guide to find magazine articles on current topics. This was in preparation for a debate we had to participate in.
Zoom forward again, and I’m a junior and senior in Covington High School. Term papers, book reports, you name it. For some of the more esoteric topics (in senior English), in which the local collection was lacking, the branch librarians would order books from the Louisiana State Library for a specified period … and, of course, they were “reserve” only, so we had to use them on the premises. It always impressed me that they went to that extra effort to get those materials and that the teacher, Mrs. Erlene Howser (Ward), made the necessary contacts with the proper lead-time. I also never forgot that the librarians in that branch allowed us rambunctious teens quite a bit of leeway in our decorum. Not that we were necessarily horrid, but we certainly breached the standard “shush!” laws. Their tolerance served as a model for me in my later career, in how to deal with school kids who had a bit more energy than sense, but who weren’t actually “bad” kids.
As I said starting out, I believe many of these early experiences directly contributed to my decision to attend graduate library school at LSU and begin my career in that profession. I had many rich experiences AS a librarian, too, but that’s a topic for another day.
What were some of YOUR favorite memories using libraries?