I want to thank all Midcoast Maine taxpayers. Your annual payment to support local libraries helps me feel, well, special.

Because of your largesse over decades, I have had some excellent experiences in libraries, both local and far beyond.

My Non-Valedictorian Days

“Hey, Mike. I never saw you in here before,” a lanky student named Doug whispered to me in the Manchester Memorial Library. I remember thinking Doug must have been what every parent wanted back then for a child — smart, athletic, and popular. In my high school class of 650 students, I didn’t run in any of his exclusive circles, so I couldn’t imagine how he knew my name.

That evening at the library — being there a rarity in my adolescent life — I struggled with some subject or other prior to a test. Chemistry, algebra, an English comp assignment, it didn’t matter, I struggled in them all. But Doug sat next to me and helped me understand the elements of the subject. Then he was off to his own quiet place to study. I never forgot that.

I once called the same library from home to see if they had any books on bees. The reference librarian put me on hold, and minutes later came back after finding, and retrieving, several books about bees.

“Well,” he said, “I can read you the topic content of each book, and you can pick which one is best for you and we can hold it. Or, if the question you have is specific, I can look it up for you and ring you back.”

“You’re kidding. You can do that?” I asked.

It was a pre-Google-like experience, and I couldn’t believe how helpful the librarian was in real time over the phone.

I didn’t leverage this library experience into becoming the Valedictorian of my high school, though; I’m happy I graduated at all. But the lingering effects on me were all positive.

My Army foxhole days

Even when I was in the army, I always scoped out the base library. As a medic, I often worked in army hospitals, which also had libraries, and I used them liberally.

Once, I walked with a couple of my army medic friends to the base library. One guy, Bob, thought of himself as a smart SOB, and he was full of himself; it became hard to differentiate what was BS and what was truth. We were in the library that day near a huge old Oxford dictionary on a podium, so I challenged him to give some definitions of any obscure words I could find. He didn’t blink.

“Let’s see. Ah, what is a chimera?” I whispered to him, the silence in the room heavy with, well, silence.

“A mythical animal that looks like you, with a goat’s head and snake tail,” he said.

“Um, okay. How about, let’s see, antipodes?”

“Something opposite, like something better looking than you. Idiot.”

He didn’t get one word wrong. I became inspired to visit libraries more often, hoping to be more like Bob.

My Midcoast Maine days

I have visited the libraries in Thomaston, Rockland, Rockport, Camden, and, of course, Jackson Memorial in my hometown of Tenants Harbor. Each building has its own aura, from Thomaston’s humble space in the old Academy Building to the classic brick splendor of Camden’s library overlooking the harbor.

Jackson Memorial Library is within walking distance from my Tenants Harbor home. I feel guilty when I see it is open because I am usually driving by on my way to the transfer station. But when I have entered, I feel the same swathed feeling I always have in every library, and my wife and I feel moved every year to donate dollars above and beyond our tax support.

I haven’t yet figured out what wraps around me as I enter libraries, but I enjoy it. Maybe it’s the books, magazines, and newspapers that promise to relieve my lack of liberal arts knowledge. Or being with folks who have the same feeling I do — the library is a special place for people like us. Perhaps it’s like a church; the quiet and respect of the inhabitants, and the withholding of judgement.

Recently, I left my wife off at an appointment in Rockport. She suggested I hang out at the town library and wait for her, which I did.

‘What a beautiful library,” I thought.

My computer, iPad, and two books were in the case I walked in with. I found a quiet, sunshine-filled place by a window and sat in a comfortable stuffed chair. There were no other people in the area. I started reading my iPad and promptly nodded off. When I awoke, there was an older fellow sitting to my left who was reading some material and paid no attention to me.

Embarrassing, sure, but I hoped I benefited from some literary osmosis while napping.

I love libraries. They accept everybody who has a desire for connection, whether it is with a high-schooler named Doug, a reference librarian who gets excited about bees, a smarty-army pants Bob, or just a knucklehead who sits in a comfortable chair in a sunny part of the stacks and nods off.

So, thank you, Maine taxpayers, for supporting us library patrons whether we are haves or have-nots. You are the best.

Mike Skinner is a writer who lives in Tenants Harbor. Skinner was a medic in the U.S. Army, a hospital executive, and a college educator. He is the author of “My Life as a Non-Valedictorian,” available through Maine Authors Publishing, local bookstores, and Amazon and Kindle.

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