Libraries change lives for the better


Photo from Random House

by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix

Sometimes you stumble over something important, because you weren’t looking for it to begin with. That is what happened when I read Unafraid of the Dark, A Memoir by Rosemary L. Bray, a former editor of the New York Times Book Review.

Bray’s story illustrates the importance of public libraries in positively shaping lives and providing sanctuary for those who need respite from difficulties.

Extreme poverty and a violent, alcoholic father deviled Bray’s childhood from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s.  Home was usually a place of fear for her, especially at night, when she would lie in the dark listening to her father berate and beat her mother.

Escaping home at the library
However, there were people and places that saved Bray. These included a clever, dedicated mother and the public library.

The author notes that she and her siblings would hurry up and work hard to complete household chores in order to escape home for a bit.

We all knew that when we finished doing what we had to do, we could cajole my mother into taking us to the library, with a trip to the playground afterward. The library was the part I was most interested in.

Once the house was clean, the next step in their library day ritual was for Bray’s mother to make sure that all her children were clean and dressed in “decent clothes” for their walk through Hyde Park to Chicago’s T.B. Blackstone Library.

But before they stepped out the door, Bray writes, Mama would  “go to the second drawer of the dresser that sat in our kitchen….In the drawer was the old black felt pocketbook….a repository for the really important records of our household.” These included the family’s library cards.

Libraries rescue us
It was the library that helped Bray to explore the rich worlds of fairytales, mythology, biology, and history. A lonely egghead of a child, she found her friends in fiction rather than on the playground.

This sad yet inspiring story about endurance and resilience is also a story about how libraries can help rescue us.


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