Before there were computers, smart phones, video games, I Pads, and DVDs, there were books. Growing up, my mother tried her best to instill a love for reading in her children. Before going to bed, she would often read from a book. I remember her reading a biography of Albert Schweitzer, the Great Locomotive Chase, and my favorite, a biography of Lord Nelson!
Because of Mom’s love of books, I became very familiar with the McGregor Library at an early age. As a child, the first thing I noticed was the building itself. It was the most beautiful building in Highland Park. There was nothing in Highland Park that compared with the grandeur of the McGregor Library. Even when the library was closed, the golden doors with the two figures on it were very impressive.
Once we would enter the library, I would be awestruck by the size of the library. I would look left and see the periodical section and the adult section. Straight ahead was the checkout desk, with shelves of books behind the desk. As we entered the library, Mom would remind me that I was to be very quiet in the library. Mom didn’t have to tell me because the building itself communicated that this is a place of quietness, study and reflection.
My section of the library was to the right of the entrance. Mom would direct me to the bookshelves for children. I would dig right into the books. The first books that I would check out of the library were by Dr. Seuss. I just couldn’t get enough of his strange type of humor and bizarre illustrations.
My favorite part of the visit was to look through the stereoscope that was in the children’s department. The old black and white photos seen through the stereoscope appeared in 3D. Not only was the 3D effect exciting, but the old photos gave me a glimpse of life in the past. I would imagine going back into time and visiting the people and the places in the photos.
Also, in the children’s section was the famous doll house. I didn’t spend a lot of time there, so I have this description by another former Highland Parker. “The doll house was absolutely fabulous! It was just to the right in the lobby as you entered the library. The house was a cut-away so that you could look straight ahead at all the floors. I believe it was a tri-level house (but it may have only been two). All of the rooms were furnished; bedrooms with beds; a living room with a sofa and chairs. The house had all the fixtures including miniature people and pets. The house was inhabited by what appeared to be a nuclear family.” (Pamela Galloway)
As I grew older, I left Dr. Seuss behind and the other children’s books. As a result, my visits to the McGregor Library became very infrequent. It shouldn’t have happened, but I became interested in sports and other activities. Mom must have understood this because our visits to the library had stopped.
In the eighth grade, I became reacquainted with the McGregor Library. Mrs. Smart, my eighth grade English teacher assigned us a research paper. She mentioned that we needed eight to ten references. The subject that I choose was the All-America Football Conference. This football league competed with the NFL during 1946-1949. However, I had the problem of where am I going to find these references
In 1969, there was no Google; so I had to become acquainted with the adult area of the McGregor library. The librarian was kind enough to explain the “Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature”. This was a handy book that catalogued all the articles each year that were written on a certain subject. I would write down the name and date of the magazine that I needed. The librarian would take the slip. Soon, she would return with a satisfied smile and the desired magazine. I spent several days studying dusty, old magazines with articles on the All-America Football Conference. I was quite happy with my time in the library, but Mrs. Smart wasn’t very impressed by evidence of the grade I received.
This would be my last major foray into the McGregor library. In high school, I would study at the Highland Park High School library or at home. I also enjoyed looking through the dusty old books in the used book store across from McGregor Library. Yes, I would drive past the library, but the wonder of Dr. Seuss, the stereoscope and the Readers’ Guide to Periodicals was gone.
Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to have lived in a community with a library such as the McGregor Library. It still is my favorite building in Highland Park. The modern libraries lack the grandeur of the McGregor Library both on the outside and the inside of the building. Perhaps, one day, people will again frequent this treasure that many Highland Parkers once enjoyed.
P.S. Here is a link of an interview that Al Jazeera did with Danny Glover inside the McGregor Library in 2009. They give a twenty second view of the inside of the library at 1:20 minute mark of the video. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/faultlines/2010/06/20106277219669770.html
P.P.S. Please visit my other blog: http://www.markjemilbooth.com. I write about spiritual topics such as: “When I am Afraid” and God’s Waiting Room”.