Lately, I’ve checked out enough books at the library to build up a rapport at the downtown location. I visited last month and grabbed some books, one of which was a cookbook. Who knew the library carried cookbooks? After I found the cookbook I needed, and gawked at the amount of cookbooks in the library (it’s a ton), I made my way down to the checkout counter.
The library employee and I struck up a conversation as she noticed my cookbook. It was an intro into Sichuan/Szechwan/Szechuan called Land of Plenty. She wanted to know why I was checking it out and how I thought my culinary experience would go. I expressed optimism. She did the same, and we parted ways.
My earliest memories of going to the library are probably similar to yours. I remember during my school age years reading books for summer reading contests. I also remember heading downtown to research literary criticism for high school term papers. I know the University of Alabama has libraries too, but I didn’t spend much time in those, something my GPA regrets. When we lived in Atlanta, I took my wife to our local library so she could get a few books to read, but due to the popularity of our branch, we didn’t have the chance to check out anything we wanted. We were too impatient to go on a wait list.
When we got back from our big adventure overseas, I had about a dozen books waiting on me at home. Books about food, beer, sports, politics, countless lost buildings, and civil rights were all waiting to be read. If I was to become an expert on all things Birmingham, I needed to learn a lot more about the city I called home.
I read through each of my books several times, took lots of notes, and turned those notes into tours. Each time I read a book, another would somehow pop up. As I talked to more people, more books were added to my queue. Before long, my short list of a dozen books began to
multiple into the scores.
I quickly learned there were a lot books I needed to read before I could do certain tours or talk about certain topics. I also realized I could not afford to buy all the books I needed, especially while I was trying to build Red Clay Tours and my wife was looking for a real job to support us.
I returned to the only other option I knew. The option that was popular for summer reading contests and writing term papers. Perfect for when you need a book but can’t afford to buy it. I began renting books again from my local library.
It has been awesome, exciting, and interesting.
I’ve been to a half dozen libraries in the last couple of months tracking down books in different places. Not every library has every book or shares the same hours, so I get to visit local libraries all over the county trying to find a book before it closes up shop for the day.
Eventually, I remembered how to decipher all the letters and numbers of the Dewey Decimal system . I figured out what the abbreviations meant so I could find a book without an adult walking me over to the section in question. Occasionally I’m in the wrong place, but it’s a library and no one is really paying attention.
I normally head to Central library downtown. Maybe you’ve been there. It’s the one with all the glass and big shiny point jutting out from the top. Sadly, the building has seen better days. The escalators have been shut off for years. The trashcans catching rain/water make some floors more like obstacle courses. But the view from Central makes it worth your visit. Where else are you able read and look out onto Sloss Furnace. It also helps that this location has the most books. Not only do I want to visit downtown, sometimes I have to just to get what I’m looking for.
Surprisingly, I haven’t had to wait list a single book at any of the county libraries. Of course, I’m not trying to check out a bestseller any time soon. Apparently, A History of Alabama from 1860-1960 is not on anyone’s short list.
Sometimes I need a really important book (at least that’s what I tell myself) and I have to cross the bridge from the Central library to the Linn-Henley research library. Their walls are painted with murals and such. None of the books can leave the premises. They have books hidden away in the “South Stacks”. I needed a video once and the only version was the transcript of a CBS special. It was in the “Stacks.”
Everyone at the libraries has been helpful whether it’s been a book I needed in the “stacks”, on the shelf, or at another library. Once they know what you’re looking for, they start suggesting other titles, which has helped me a great deal. I’m glad I started going back to the library. It has provided a great service to me, and I’m sure it could for you too. If you haven’t been to the library in a few years, do yourself a favor and make a visit.
Last week I was back in for another book and noticed the employee who helped me check out my cookbook. I recognized her, but didn’t want to bother her about my cooking adventures. She sees a ton of people every day at the library. I see one or two. Surprisingly, she remembered me and asked how the cooking was going. I let her know my wife didn’t hate it yet and told her about some recipes I was about to try. She seemed excited for me and I can’t wait to tell my new library friend about what I cook next.
I just hope I get to the recipe before the book is due.