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Public library tells community's stories

I grew up on the 1600 hundred block of Hammond Avenue, when boulevards still dotted the elm-lined street. As a young child, there were only two places beyond the reach of my mother's voice calling me home that I was allowed to go on my own — Hammond Park and the old Superior Public Library.

Both loom large in my memories. Both played a role in teaching me life lessons, one social and one academic. But the library was love at first sight for me. The relationship has endured more than 50 years, despite both of us having moved to new locations.

My mother was an avid reader and passed the love of books on to her children. At an early age, I was subscribed to Dr. Seuss's series of books, I Can Read By Myself. I took to reading like a bookworm to friable pages.

My older brother was a fan of comics, so it wasn't long before I was reading Archie, Superman, Batman and many more. Thanks to his extensive and eclectic reading stash, my funny bone was fed on the satire of MAD Magazine, and my sense of the macabre developed with Tales from the Crypt.

The first chapter book I read was a Nancy Drew mystery belonging to my sister. When I closed the cover on the last one of her small collection, wanting more, she took me to get my first library card. I was mesmerized by the stacks and stacks of books, all in one place, all there for the borrowing.

The public library opened the door to curating my own book list. I started with the mysteries I loved, moving on from Nancy Drew to classics by Daphne du Maurier, Agatha Christie and Victoria Holt, along with more modern selections by Mary Higgins Clark, Dick Francis and Tony Hillerman.

From there, it became whatever struck my fancy. I'll never forget when I asked the librarian why I couldn't find a copy of "To Kill A Mockingbird." "Because it's not a children's book," I was told. "It's shelved upstairs."

I was not yet old enough to hold a card for the main library, housed above the cozy little children's room with tiny tables and chairs, and a bubbling aquarium populated by goldfish and guppies. The possibility that I would not be able to read the book crushed me.

I was a familiar face at the library, carrying home as many books as my arms would hold on any one trip with never a concern I wouldn't finish reading them before they were due back. The librarian considered for a moment, then jotted a note for me to give to her coworker at the main desk upstairs. I felt so very grown up toting that book home under my arm.

After my age caught up to my taste in literature, and I became a regular on the main floor, my first blush of love for the library grew more intimate. I delighted in discovering out-of-the way nooks and crannies where I could lose myself on purpose. There was a spot on the mezzanine where, at a certain time of day, the sun would angle through a small, high window casting a slant of light across the floor at the back of the stacks; there I sat, mostly undisturbed, with the bright, warm sunlight falling across the pages of the book I was reading.

Sometime after my parents moved outside the city with me in tow, the Superior Public Library vacated its location on Hammond Avenue and moved into the current facility. I miss that magnificent old Carnegie library where I spent so many of my formative years, but the current location has been no less a treasure trove of adventure and education for generations of younger patrons.

But a library is about more than that. More than the place it holds in the community, all the services it offers, even the stories it holds, a library is also about the stories it tells. I never had a hint that first day I held my sister's hand and climbed the wide steps of the old library building that I'd one day be an author.

The Superior Public Library is embarking on an exciting capital improvement plan. After 25-years in the same location, with no major improvements, it's time. I sincerely hope the people of Superior get behind this effort with a positive attitude and optimistic commentary. The SPL Foundation Board is working to raise money from private sources. Those in a position to help with generous donations will be more apt to do so when they hear strong support coming from within the community.

With new improvements to see our library into the future, we ensure that new generations of budding scientists, doctors, historians, educators, leaders, artists and writers will have the opportunity to discover their futures while lost among the stacks.

Judith Liebaert writes for Positively Superior and the Duluthian. She is the author of "Sins Of The Fathers," a crime novel set in Superior and inspired by a true cold case. Find her online at judithliebaert.com.

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