Thursday, June 21, 2018

2018 Summer Library Series: Neighborhood Libraries by Cetywa Powell

Welcome back to the 2018 edition of the Summer Library Series. Every Thursday this summer, a guest writer will be sharing childhood memories of reading, books, and the library. Should you panic while waiting for the next Thursday, please enjoy past contributions here:

Today's piece is an excellent reminder of both the importance of books and neighbors who read, and how a library can become a neighborhood, not just serve one. Please enjoy today's reflection by Cetywa Powell.


Neighborhood Libraries
Cetywa Powell

Cetywa's membership card, used with permission
Libraries didn’t play a large role in my life until much later. My father’s work took him to Sweden, where he got his Ph.D., and later Africa, where he researched a disease called “Sleeping Sickness.” 

In Sweden, where I did half of my kindergarten, I didn’t speak the language and spent much of my class time in silence. The next half of kindergarten was spent in Hawaii, where my mother is from. I don’t recall ever frequenting the library there.

My father’s research then took him to Nairobi, Kenya. I read voraciously, but the books were from neighbors and friends, never from the library. In fact, in those days, Nairobi’s library had books that were so old and outdated, I felt they had been there from the colonial days (Nairobi was an English colony and got its independence in 1963). I visited that library once and had no desire to go back.

My reading came from the neighbors’ libraries. Our American neighbors introduced me to the Noddy series as a kid and later the Anne of Green Gables books. From down the street, I borrowed the Chronicles of Narnia series. And from someone else, I read George Orwell’s novels: Animal Farm and 1984.
Cetywa Powell, photo used with permission

When we returned to the U.S., we settled first in Denver and finally in New York, where my father was from. Denver was a difficult year so I spent a large part of my time reading. Although I don’t recall where my books came from, I do remember every book I read.

My love for libraries started in New York. There are two libraries that come to mind: the small New York library that I walked to from our apartment to borrow books and my college library at Columbia University. Although Columbia’s main library, Butler library, is one of the largest libraries in the United States, I was impressed only with its interior architecture, not its manuscripts. I spent many hours studying there, looking up between breaks to stare at the room(s) in awe. I’m ashamed to say I never actually thought to borrow any of their books.

Now, I’m a member of the Los Angeles public library, and my fondness for libraries extends beyond just books. I appreciate their free classes, their up-to-date movie collection, their free computers, and their monthly book sales where books cost just 25 cents. They’ve saved me when my computer crashed, when my printer ran out of ink, and I when couldn’t find a movie online. We even got free solar eclipse glasses from them for the solar eclipse in 2017.

Butler Library, Columbia University: more here
Los Angeles Public Library, photo from DryWired

Today's Library Writer: Cetywa Powell is an editor, photographer, and filmmaker. She runs the small press, Underground Voices, which features new, hard-hitting work by award-winning writers in its magazine, e-book series, and book line. As a photographer, Powell's work has exhibited in galleries in France, New York, Los Angeles, Maryland, Virginia, Hungary, Florida, the Trieste airport in Italy, Vermont, and Texas. She is based in Los Angeles. Learn more about Powell and her visual work here: