The Lilly Library at Indiana University has a number of special collections, and when I arrived as a freshman in 1991 there was some ballyhoo about T.S. Eliot’s grocery list. I enjoyed going there and presenting my student ID, along with the name of a pet writer, just to see what they had. On one occasion they gave me a box containing a postcard Robert Lowell sent Ezra Pound, about spending “a two-hour sit with the dentist.” Lowell misspelled Tuesday, transposing the ‘u’ and the ‘e.’ About seventeen years later I learned that he was thought vaguely dyslexic. On another occasion at the Lilly I held in my own two hands a handwritten note left by Katherine Anne Porter at a hotel desk in Mexico City in 1923. I can’t remember what it said. I was also shown a striking unpublished photo of her taken, I suppose, in her mid-forties. I made no pretense of using these materials for research — I was transparently a kid playing a game, a library tourist. The Lilly librarians not only knew that, they welcomed it. They rightly recognized education in action, and they deserve a salute.
I was fortunate to grow up near a wonderful public library in Yonkers, NY. Our apartment building was at the top of a steep hill and the library was at the bottom, but my older sister and I made the trip there and back again every summer morning in sweltering heat, arms loaded with the books that would occupy us for the rest of the day. Although my sister taught me to read, libraries taught me to love reading: the joy of discovering stories, losing myself in worlds assembled from words, the pleasure of closing one book and immediately opening the next in the pile, the promise of a seemingly unlimited number of them still awaiting me on the shelves. Libraries were everything to kids like us who had no money for books but could never have enough of them; if it takes a village to raise a child, mine was full of librarians.