I still remember my first library card. It was tan and all the private information that could be used for identity theft — name, age, face, favorite member of SWV, etc — was typed on its face. I don’t remember it because I have a great memory, but because my mom still has it. She is a hoarder of all things related to her children.
I am from Louisiana and I was po'. Not poor, mind you. But po'. Not enough money for the "o" and the "r." And, some years were we just "p'." There wasn’t much going on in our neighborhood — at least not for me — so moms would drop me off at the library because it was the best place for an aspiring nerd in my city to nerd it up outside of the comic shops across town. Comics cost money, but the library is free. I would plan my day there in advance because I memorized the events calendar. Books sold by the inch? I did that. Special film strips in the kid’s section? I’ll turn the dial at the sound of a chime. Summer reading program? You betta come correct if you want to challenge me.
I was amazed by the fact that we could check out VHS, though we didn’t have a VCR. I enjoyed the wall of magazines and read bodybuilding, business, general interest, women’s interest (don’t judge), and any random magazine that wasn’t torn to shreds. I was like Johnny Five from Short Circuit. “Input!” I hated being home without a good book because the alternate option was Encyclopedia Britannica and that could only go so far for entertainment.
Reading Rainbow brainwashed me into believing I could travel to distant lands by picking up a book. Kunta Kinte/Geordi La Forge was right! I would get lost in the library stacks and loved it because no one bothered me or questioned my interests, though I was all about books that included nudity: aboriginal peoples, pregnancy, fashion, art, LGBQT, or whatever. I improved my yet to begin dating and sex life by reading books on how to improve a marriage: be a good roommate and have more sex (best advice ever). I conducted my early research via the card catalog then used an electronic system that looked outdated the minute the hardware was installed. “Is this BASIC?”
As of today I have had library cards in my hometown, London, Miami, Greenwich, CT, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. I treat it like a passport and probably use it at least twice each week. “Input!” I ride on the subway daily and feel lost when I don’t have something to read. I’m like a junkie. I can’t sit here for an entire trip and act like I don’t want to stare at the weird looking man across from me eating Vienna sausage and the poor man’s aspic that congeals at the bottom of the can. I need me a book!
I rarely buy books because I am in a long term relationship with the library and can’t quit her. If I read an article that cites a passage from a book I might like I immediately reserve it. I spend less time in the library now because I request books online and pick them up after I receive an email alert. I primarily peruse the shelves if I finished my book(s) too quickly and need something immediately. I am spoiled by what I have in Manhattan. We have libraries for the performing arts, Black culture research, science/industry/business, and one of the most beautiful main libraries in the world. I need to check the website for upcoming events ASAP. I gotta get my fix of old book smell.
Vontilla Steven has a day job and many writing side hustles: wrote and performed a one-person show, co-created a sketch comedy show, and wrote a screenplay that did well in a national competition. He is based in New York and is originally from Lafayette, Louisiana. He doesn't eat meat and that poses a problem when he visits his hometown. He loves to cook, lift and drop weights, and run the Stairs of Doom in Washington Heights.