I grew up in a small anthracite mining town in Pennsylvania with a population of about 1,500 people. Not much has changed in terms of population – the last census accounted for about 1,700 people. Tremont had its own school district when I attended school there, and my senior class consisted of just 35 students. The only library I recall was in the high school. There was a larger municipal library in Pottsville, but that was 14 miles distant and that might as well have been 14 light years for an adolescent with no car.
As you entered the high school there was a small conference room to the left that also served as the high school library. The room was so small that if you sat at one of the chairs at the conference table, you could reach over to the book shelves.There was a book shelf on each wall and that was the extent of the library. I remember sitting at that table after school was dismissed and looking through the books. At the time I was mostly interested in reading about sports and would choose any book that contained a story about sports teams and their participants. I can’t really recall any of the titles, but I do remember sitting in that room, by myself, and going through one book after another.
My interest in sports was my of belonging. I played basketball in high school – not very well to be honest – but I was athletic and I found that sports provided me with a group to which I felt I belonged. Sitting in the library, going through one book after another that revealed other students who shared that group identity was important for me. It was not that there was a whole shelf of titles. I think it amounted to only 3 or 4 books on that topic, but I did read them all while I was in my own private reading room. There was a peacefulness to staying in that space that I could not find anywhere else.