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Wednesday
Oct142009

Des Moines Central Library: Des Moines, IA

Des Moines has an amazing Central Library. The exterior walls are made from copper mesh, which is opaque by day and transparent at night--like books, the whole place changes depending on your perspective. And in honor of the great event we had last night, I thought I'd share my Top-10 Favorite Library Moments.

Without further adieu:

1) I met my wife at that hotbed of swinging singles activity known as…the public library. Hey, no laughing! Bat Girl was a librarian––and she was hot! (Cupid hangs out at the library by the way, look in the 300s). We met at a writers’ group hosted in the basement, right next to a room with recovering alcoholics and a program where people read to their pets. I think there’s a padded room down there somewhere but I can’t confirm it.

2) I was kicked out of my junior high school library, along with five of my geeky friends, for playing Dungeons & Dragons. A concerned parent accused us of worshipping Satan and had us booted. Because that’s where Satan likes to be worshipped, you know––the library, way in the back right next to the Encyclopedia Satanica.

3) In my past life I worked in advertising and was approached by my local public library to do a pro-bono campaign for a mill levy. Like all libraries, they were short on capital to make much-needed improvements. The levy passed with a whopping 77% of the vote. A literary landslide that left the library’s director shouting, “Damn, I should have asked for more money!”

4) As a kid in the 70s, I was into the band KISS. (I even dressed up as Peter Criss for Halloween). So years later, when I saw Kiss And Tell, the autobiography of lead-singer, Gene Simmons, I had to check it out. This is one of those rock-star, tell-all yarns about back-stage bacchanalia and life on the road. The best part was the bookplate. The book had been purchased with money donated to the library’s foundation, and read: “In loving memory of our reverent mother, Agnes.” Rock on, Agnes.

5) In high school I boosted a book from the library. I hesitate to use the word “stolen,” because I eventually paid the fine. The book, Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird Stories, was on the verge of being banned at the time. My collective friends and I saw it as our duty to save Harlan’s book. Still, I felt bad. Until years later when I read one of the author’s famous quotes: “If you have a burning passion for books and can’t afford them, steal them. Pay society back later”. I guess I need to send Harlan a check.

6) When I went to NYC last year to meet the lovely folks at Random House, I went directly from the airport to the New York Public Library. I felt like a pilgrim visiting the Holy Land, only that land was actually the Rose Reading Room.

7) It’s ironic how small schools will ban books like The Catcher in the Rye, but leave that fount of all things four-lettered—the dictionary. I recall being in grade school pouring over a ginormous tome with pages dog-eared from countless generations of gangly boys trying to discern the facts of life. Even today I can remember that a certain word was preceded by the word fuchsin––a purplish-red aniline dye. Some day that bit of trivia will be my savior on Jeopardy.

8 ) Two years ago I returned to the library of my childhood to find it closed. Despite millions of dollars in expansion and renovation, a nasty political fight resulted in the doors being shut, permanently. There were signs all over the front entrance that read, “Maybe if they’d stop spending so much on war, we could have a library.” I shoved a five-dollar bill beneath the door and sadly walked away.

9) I edited most of my novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, at the public library. It was summer and my kids were constantly confusing my home office with a McDonald’s Playland, so I packed up my manuscript and laptop and got it done at the library. Shhhhhhhhhh.

10) My first book event, as a real bonafide author, was at my local public library. Unfortunately my reading coincided with a record-shattering blizzard and a remodel of the library entrance, which made attendance rather light. Only readings at leper colonies get fewer patrons. The janitor thought I was pretty good though.

What are your memorable moments?

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Reader Comments (3)

I remember having my mom take me to the library multiple times a week so I could do research on my " historical novel" at age 12. I'd check out every single book on the history of our town, since that's where my book took place. I fondly remember one that had to have been self-published...back in the 1940s. It was obviously typed on a typewriter and even had copies of sketches and maps the author made of the local park.

Because of that book (and I firmly believe I was the only one who ever checked it out, LOL), I had my dad take me to as many places in the park that I could find from the old maps. Even found an old cemetery dating to 1800 from that map.

All thanks to spending time at the local library :)
October 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDara
Lol to #7!

You know, I grew up within walking distance of my public library, and I never realized how special that was until I moved away.
October 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKristan
A few weeks ago, I visited Colorado for the first time since I left there more than 20 years ago. I was attending a writer's class, and we fieldtripped to Boulder one evening for dinner. We parked in the city's public lot, and I glanced down to the end of the lot and realized I was looking at the Boulder Public Library -- my safe haven when I was a shy 4th and 5th grader, the new kid transplanted against my will to a state where nobody spoke with my accent (Kentucky, yikes!), the kids wore different clothes, and my brother and I got weird looks from the teachers when we said ma'am and sir like we'd been taught. The librarians became well acquainted with me during my weekly visits, where I lugged in the maximum number of books I was allowed to check out and found a new pile. Inspired me to get my MLS a few years ago!
October 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

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