My Ohio: Respect the Book

A writer’s reverence for the printed page began with a crumpled library card and the admonishment of a stern librarian.

When the movie “Fahrenheit 451” was released in 1966, my friend Kyle and I were teenagers. Based on the science fiction novel by Ray Bradbury, the film tells of a future totalitarian government that bans and burns books.

The Book People were hidden “outlaws” whose members each memorized a book to preserve it for future generations. Pretty heavy stuff for two impressionable teenagers who were both sort of bookish.

It was Kyle’s idea that we should each choose a book to memorize. She selected T. H. White’s The Once and Future King and I picked A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Our noble mission wasn’t exactly a success once we were sidetracked by boys and driving. And I’ve always had trouble even memorizing a phone number. But Kyle actually memorized a good chunk of her book before we called it quits. I don’t remember one line from mine, but I bet she could still rattle off a few pages.
The fact that I tried to preserve a book shows how much books and libraries have always meant to me. I can trace my life through the Ohio libraries I have patronized and I owe them all deep gratitude.

The first library I really remember was the Solon branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. I held my little orange rectangle library card in my hand so tightly it was always damp and crumpled. But I didn’t want to lose it!

Miss Maroush, the librarian, was no-nonsense. I picture her wearing a plain purple dress, towering over me (a skinny kid with thick glasses) and saying in a booming voice, “You must always wash your hands before you read these books at home.” I knew she could see right into my bathroom and would know if I didn’t use soap.

I grew up visiting several branches of the Cuyahoga County Public Library, now the fifth busiest in the country based on circulation. At Kent State University, I first studied in the “old” Rockwell Library and later the school’s “modern” 12-story library that opened in 1970, the tallest building in Portage County. To me, the secluded and mostly off-limits Rare Book Room was the most sacred place I knew.

As an adult I have visited scores of libraries across Ohio. I am glad library loving runs in the family. I cried years ago when my then young son got his first library card (he signed his name so neatly!) from the Akron-Summit County Public Library. And my 6-year-old grandson is “best friends” with a branch librarian in the Portage County District Library. 

Ohio has both extraordinary public and private libraries with a wide variety of purposes. The Ohio Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled in Cleveland provides recorded books and magazines to about 15,000 special needs residents across Ohio. The Allen Memorial Medical Library and the Dittrick Medical History Center at Case Western Reserve University, also in Cleveland, is an incredible source for medical students and others. 
Westerville Public Library, south of Columbus, houses 200,000 volumes donated by the Anti-Saloon League, a famous American temperance organization that operated from 1893 to 1933. (In 1993, Westerville Public Library was the first library in the state to use self-check-out machines. In 1994, it became the first public library in Ohio to offer full Internet access to patrons.) And for detailed history about our state fairs, check out the State Library of Ohio in Columbus.

Ohio libraries are amazing places that evolve to keep up with our changing world. Today e-books and e-audiobooks. Tomorrow? I respect technology and understand the need. But call me old-fashioned. I still love the feel and even the smell of a traditional book in my hand.

With more than 230 regional public library systems and hundreds of private libraries in the state, I could never visit all of them. (Thank goodness for interlibrary loans!) But I can say thank you to them for helping me become a smarter, more informed Ohioan for the more than 50 years that I’ve held a library card.

And yes, Miss Maroush, I still wash my hands first.

Ohio Magazine contributing editor Jill Sell is based in Sagamore Hills.