I used to give a talk called, "Orphaned at birth and Raised by Kindly Librarians" and that was meant to be a joke, but the older I got, the more I realized there was some truth to it. My parents did rely on libraries, the public libraries of Albany, New York, as being, not just the babysitters, but sort of the centers of morality and the aesthetic guideposts for the rest of their child-rearing needs.
Because my parents were very strict, going to the library was the only liberty that they felt they could actually indulge in.
So I found in the books, especially in the children's room, all the incentive to explore my imagination,that I then used for the rest of my life. I love research libraries, of course, but I still love children's rooms because there's something about the smell and passion of books that have been drooled over and dropped in the swimming pool, etc, that sets my imagination aflame.
I do not use my library as a babysitter for my own children, despite how my parents did it, but it is one of the central places in town for the family to go. It is now a family destination. But I use it both for research and also as a haven of silence away from the noise and crisis of family life.
When I go to the library, I try not to look to see if they have my own work. They usually do, I have to say, but I close my eyes and count to ten if I have to walk past the "M"s in the fiction section.
I had a tender spot for the children's librarians in the Pine Hills Public Library in Albany, New York. I didn't know how they could make ends meet on the nickels and dimes that we gave them for our overdue books and I used, sometimes, actually to leave a little extra change on their desks, because I thought, if they're not well paid enough they won't be here to keep the library open for me, so I'm sure they didn't know why they were finding little piles of changes on their desks every weeks or two.
[Do you still do that?]
I do. [Laughs]
Gregory Maguire, author of the novels Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West – which was turned into a hit Broadway musical - and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, discusses his love of libraries in this video recorded at 2009 American Library Association annual conference.
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