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There are mysteries, and then there is the mysterious.

by Wally Clark on 2020-09-17T14:10:34-07:00 in Mystery, Students of All Ages, Kids/Children | Comments

There are many things that kids look at, wonder about, and question. One of the great things about being a parent is answering the endless “whys.” "Why can’t the sky be polka dotted instead of blue?” “Why is there snow in the wintertime and not in the summertime?” “Why do plums taste like plums and not like asparagus?” “Why does a cat meow instead of bark?” Parents know the drill. You can be casually making your way to the market with a carload of kids and then, out of the blue, the questions start flying: “What does that sign say?” “Why are we stopping?” “Are we there yet?”

I can’t remember when libraries became my go-to place for answers. I suppose early on it was easier to ask the most convenient adult in the room to answer the burning question that was careening around in my brain at the moment. When you are a child there is an immediacy to the questions. You see a bird flying and you want to know where the bird is going, right now. If you knew what points on the compass were all about, then it would have probably added even more questions to the list. So, it was a smart mom, an exasperated mom, who took her son to the downtown library in the fall of 1962 to get a library card. It was a brilliant mother who introduced him to the librarians in the children’s department. And it was a kind and loving parent who jumped on the bus with him once a week to refresh the towering stacks of books he consumed week in and week out.

Once I got my library card, I discovered right away that there was a difference in the way that questions were answered at the library versus at home. When I asked a completely serious and innocent question at home, such as “How long would it take for a bat to fly to the moon?” I would get stony silence or some weird feedback like, “Go ask your father.” When I went to the library and asked the very same question, I would never be laughed at or shushed. I was asked, when I walked up to the desk, in a plain and simple manner, “How can I help you today?” After we squared away the question, always ragged with enthusiasm and delight, I would be given books on bats, space travel, the moon, and other things related to or otherwise close to answering the question at hand.

Later I was shown this magical device called a card catalog and given a quick lesson on how it worked. The librarians gave me pointers on how to break down my questions so that they could be better understood and answered. As I became more familiar with the library I was given instruction on how the Dewey Decimal System worked and advice on how to find things in “the stacks.” There never seemed to be a question too large or too small, too serious or too silly for those librarians to tackle. I never went out of my way to make up weird or strange questions to ask them. I am sure that they thought that my questions were weird anyway, but were too kind to do anything other than plunge into the task at hand and help me out.

I also found out that mysterious doings were a lot different than mysteries. Thanks to that bookish bunch of children’s librarians, I was turned onto The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, with Nancy winning by a nose. Thanks to that well-read set, I also found out about Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and Barsoom series, Agatha Christie locked room mysteries, and all the rest of the old school writers of terror, suspense, and police procedural mysteries.

In the end, I was not too sure what I preferred more, diving into the mysterious worlds of science, geography, and history, or the equally fantastic and mysterious worlds of science fiction and fantasy. I think that my developing brain loved to turn over rocks and have the mysteries explained by World Book and other grand reference tools found only at the library, but it also equally loved - in that truly elementary school, fickle fashion - taking home stacks of mysteries that helped to fuel my fantasies of gumshoe detectives, devilish clues, grisly murders, and damsels in distress who could only be saved by tough minded heroes and intelligent sleuthing.

So, when you reach the limits of your ability to answer questions properly, give us a call or come by for a visit. Libraries answer questions these days in ways that would have boggled the mind of that eight-year-old boy I was ages ago. We no longer specialize in answering questions solely with reference books alone. We have grand databases to crawl, electronic reference tools online to peruse, a wealth of solid information to be ferreted out and vetted, and many contacts out in the community that we partner with that are there to help us help you. You needn’t worry anymore if you don’t know the capital of Afghanistan or if fishes swim against the current down there in the Amazon. Stop by one of your Jackson County Library Services branch libraries and ask your silliest or most serious question. We are here to answer, and we promise not to laugh!


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