Monday, August 13, 2018

2018 Summer Library Series: Library Time by Rachel King

Welcome back to the 2018 Summer Library Series in which writers remember their childhood libraries. This week's writer hails from Portland and shares the kind of magic that only you, dear reader, would know of. Please enjoy this week's reflection.


Hillsdale Branch Library,
an earlier version of itself

Library Time

Rachel King

I grew up near the Hillsdale branch of the Multnomah County Library system in Portland, Oregon. Based on the fact that my parents were readers, and that Multnomah County Library items are checked out at four times the rate of the national average, it’s not surprising that I received a library card as soon as I could write my name.

I remember the tire swing in the park across the street from the library where my siblings and I pushed each other until we felt like vomiting; the kind and reserved children’s librarian who for some reason let us show our rabbits as an extension of the summer reading program; the day at age eight that I walked toward the children’s section on the back wall of the library, saw a book on the second-to-bottom shelf, and my life changed. The book was Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

I don’t remember where I read it: maybe in a clearing between bushes at the back of the library park, maybe in the magnolia tree in my parents’ side yard, maybe on my bed on the top bunk, probably in the blue recliner in the living room where I tuned out family noise to focus on the written word.

Rachel King reading as a younger version of herself
I do remember I cried while reading the final paragraphs. As Cassie says, “I cried for things which had happened in the night and would not pass. I cried for T.J. For T.J. and the land.” It was the first book over which I cried, and I don’t cry over much. If a book could get me to see these characters and this place so clearly, then books were magic. And I’ve never stopped thinking that.

After childhood came the Knight Library at the University of Oregon, where I practiced conjugating Russian verbs on a study room blackboard; the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, where I checked out dozens of books at a time, which I read in between working various jobs and trying, for the first time, to write seriously; the Wise Library at West Virginia University, where I found amazing poets while shelving books in an empty, elegant Robinson Reading Room at midnight or one a.m.; the Louisville Public Library, where I used the free internet once a week to talk to my friend on Skype; my current local library, the Midland branch, where I go to check out New York Review of Books Classics and browse Russian books and DVDs; the Oregon City Public Library—my mom’s childhood library—where now, as an on-call library assistant, I help patrons.

When I moved back to Portland, I went to the Hillsdale library. The old library building had been demolished, and replaced with a larger one on the same site. But inside was the same children’s librarian from my childhood, and to me, she looked no differently. And most importantly, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry was still on the shelf, for another generation to discover.

Hillsdale Branch Library as its newer self


Rachel King,
photo used with permission
Today's library writer:

Rachel King is a writer and editor who lives in her hometown, Portland, Oregon. Her stories have most recently appeared in One Story and Flyway; her poetry chapbook Between Work and Light is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Learn more about her work at


Continue enjoying reflections from the Summer Library Series: