Friday, February 1, 2019

Going to the library

Me (about the age I would have gone to Stewart-Lakewood Library)
and my sister Jennifer standing on top of the
Grant Park observation tower in Atlanta (November 1966).
You can see downtown Atlanta in the background.
The 52 Ancestors theme this week is “at the library.” I started to write about the time I went to National Archives in Washington, DC and had them pull the Civil War records of Samuel C. Murphy, my husband’s 2nd great grandfather. I wasn’t allowed to carry anything in the room except for the card you inserted in the copy machine to pay for printing. They had lockers for people to store their personal belongings while you were in the record room. Once I got in the room, I remember how exciting it was holding the actual records in my hands. I couldn’t believe they let people touch them. The pages were brittle, and I remember thinking I was going to get in trouble when the first few pages I touched seemed to flake off in my hands. I just knew they were going to walk me right out of that room and lock me up. But then I thought, that’s not really a library so it doesn’t count. Then I thought I’d write about the time I visited the Daughters of the American Revolution Library, again in Washington, DC, in the 1990s. I was just beginning to do genealogy and was overwhelmed by the enormity of the room. I made several trips into DC and found some good stuff there but even though it is a library, decided against that story. Instead, I’ll tell you about my experience of going to the library as a child and as an adult.

I grew up in Atlanta and remember going to the Stewart-Lakewood Library in the mid-1960s. This library was located on Lakewood Avenue, in the corner of the Stewart-Lakewood Shopping Center parking lot, not too far from home. Growing up, I read a lot. With five children in the family I’m sure money was tight, so we didn’t buy many books. Instead, Mama took us to the library. I remember getting stacks of books to bring home to read. During the summer months, the school must have encouraged us to read and keep track of the books we read. When school started back in the fall, the students that had read a certain number of books got to participate in a Coke party. Of course, I’m talking about an ice-cold bottle of Coca-Cola. Coke is a staple in our homes today, but in the mid-1960s, it was a treat to get one, so I always made sure I read enough books to get mine. My favorite books as a young girl were the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read them over and over again. Since it was pre-Internet, if we had to write a report for school, we’d have to go to the library to do our research. I do remember having a set of Collier’s Encyclopedias at home but still needing to go to the library for research purposes. I also remember pulling the long drawers out to look through the card catalogue in search of books. Once you figured out the Dewey Decimal system it was a piece of cake.

As an adult, I discovered the interlibrary loan service and often used my local libraries to order books from other states to research my ancestors. What a great service that is—if you haven’t used it, you should. In addition to books, I’ve ordered microfilm and used the readers and printers at my library to print records. At the time, there was no fee to use this service. You just needed a library card. Today you pay a $3 fee but that’s very reasonable. Ten years ago, I was able to obtain many obituaries from libraries in Pennsylvania and South Carolina by sending a letter with my request, a list of names and dates, and a donation to the library. I always got a response and most of the obituaries. I was thankful for all the help the wonderful librarians gave me.

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