When I was younger, my parents spent money more carefully than they do now. My mom refused to work because she didn't want to leave raising my younger brother and I up to a nanny. My father had a well paying job, but he was also our sole provider. So, more often than not, we were herded towards our local library and away from expensive bookstores.
When I was a child, the library we frequented was more or less split in two. You could walk through the glass doors speckled with tiny fingerprints, and find yourself standing directly in front of the librarians' desks. There were five, but usually only two of them were in use. From there, you could either turn left and head towards the children's section, or right towards the adult's section.
In those days I almost always went towards the left. For the benefit of smaller children, bookshelves were shorter there, which let in natural light. This natural glow made the already colorful atmosphere even more jovial and welcoming. There were popular book characters such as Curious George printed out on cardboard cutouts and hung from the ceiling. An amphitheater dipped down into the center of the room. Kids would occasionally put on puppet shows there for their parents, and other times a librarian would read a book aloud. Even if there weren't any performances occurring, you could always look out the window at the bird feeder. There would always be three or four different birds helping themselves.
I always felt safe there, and so did the other kids. You could always hear their laughter ringing off the elevated ceilings. Those sounds coupled with the constant motion of kids and parents walking around, gave the space a comfortable liveliness.
In comparison, the right side of the library held taller shelves, which covered much of the windows. It seemed to me that the space existed in eternal night. The shelves themselves created a labyrinth a small child could easily get lost in. The book covers were less colorful and were without smiling fictional characters on the front. The only things that hung from the ceiling were cobwebs, and the only sound heard over the buzz of computers was the occasional cough. I only ventured there when I was trying to find my mom. I always felt a sense of unease as I walked timidly around the space. Maybe it was the darkness, or the stillness, or the general sense of doom that seemed to radiate off of the figures slouching over their laptops- it could be any of those reasons- but whatever it was threatened to pop the bubble of childish naivete I held around myself. The feeling didn't go away until after I found my mother and bolted back to the other side.
As I got older, my mom reentered the work force. She no longer took us to the library, instead we went to bookstores. I wonder what it would be like to walk into the library now. Would the right side still feel as ominous? Or would it be just anther part of the library? Would the left side still feel safe and comfortable? Or would it be too bright and fake? I'll never be able to know.
Our library moved to a different location a few years ago. I've visited it a few times, but almost nothing is the same. The windows are tall enough to send light into both the adult's section and the children's section. There isn't an amphitheater anymore, nor a bird feeder. The ceilings aren't tall enough to send echos of laughter, or to allow the accumulation of cobwebs. Only one thing hasn't changed- if you go to the left you will find yourself in the children's section, and if you go to the right you will find yourself in the adult's.