Marble Elementary school had an “old building” which housed the fifth and sixth graders. Despite being old fashioned and, well, old, it had an aura of prestige; the younger students were in the “new building” across the street, with a gym and wide corridors but not the same spark. Google informs me that the former was built in 1934 and the latter in 1952—and as of 2020 there is a new version, complete with “solar fields, solar-powered car ports, upgraded air condition systems, natural lighting and higher ceilings”.
The library was on the basement floor of that old 1934 two-story dark brick building in a small windowless room, maybe 12 by 15 feet. Its walls were lined with bookshelves, neatly organized into the Dewey decimal system
But does Marble still have a library? Google declines to tell me—it seems that the East Lansing Public Library is the only one in town. But Marble used to have its own. Its library was on the basement floor of that old 1934 two-story dark brick building in a small windowless room, maybe 12 by 15 feet. Its walls were lined with bookshelves, neatly organized into the Dewey decimal system as we were all taught. We would have “library hour” each week when we could pick out something to borrow, filling out a card tucked into the back of the book with our name and date so the librarian would know who had which book. At least we had that privilege once we graduated to the old building—I can’t remember if we trekked across the street from the lower grades. In any case, that is the first library I remember.
My favorite section was the line of orange-colored biographies about the childhood of famous people in the US–mostly white men–but there was some diversity: Abigail Adams, Jim Thorpe. I also devoured Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and books about dogs or adventure. The library was a great place for a bookworm, a cornucopia of food for the imagination. Thinking about it still brings happy memories. It was not a place to study and fret, just enjoy. I have to admit that I hardly recall if there was a librarian, but there must have been.
In sixth grade, we visited the library for another reason: the closest thing we ever got to the mysterious world of sex education. I think we needed our parents’ permission. We girls were separated from the boys and trooped down to that dark room for a film on an old 16 mm projector. Everyone was anxious and a little bit nervous—it was very hush-hush. I remember drawings of a uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and vagina with animations of swelling uterine linings and shedding thereof. Maybe a description of pads—I think Kotex sponsored the film. It seemed all very theoretical but there was some useful information. There may have been a schematic or two of disembodied male anatomy and allusion to pregnancy, but really it was about menstruation. And what did the boys learn? I have no idea.
Libraries have maintained their appeal for me, even if they may seem old-fashioned and space-consuming, the digital world now dominant. I have had library rooms in many places I have lived, and still have more books than can fit into my bookshelves. Although Marble elementary school and library were probably typical for a predominantly white town in the Midwest in the 1950’s, which some may call the “good old days”, that would be a very narrow view. The choice of books for children and young adults was far more limited than now. There was much we were not taught or exposed to, and some of the explosion of political and social activity in the sixties surely reflected the need to break free. But as far as I knew, books were not censored or removed from libraries, and the contents were not vetted by religious groups as is happening now in parts of the US. I refuse to believe these efforts will ultimately be successful. People will still want knowledge and libraries are made for that. May they thrive.