‘Look at that — look at that! That’s a library — a library is a rainbow in the clouds.’
So said Maya Angelou. Having seen this quote for the first time, I now find myself seeing it everywhere. It reminds me of when I was about 7. It was lunch-time at school and I felt like some peace and quiet. Perhaps it was a hot day? I found myself at the library, a magical room with wall-paper of Disney characters and others from childhood classics. Now it was empty! As I tip-toed in, a voice called out, “Can I help you?” I timidly asked the librarian if it was all right for me to be there at lunch time, to which she replied, “Of course.” I was stunned. I spent the rest of the lunch hour engrossed, feeling privileged that I was on hallowed ground. I could take my time and enjoy the bliss of this experience all on my own. Spending time in a classroom and having siblings meant being on my own was a rarity I cherished.
Clearly, Maya Angelou valued libraries too, but hers was an especially poignant feeling. Here’s what she had to say of her experience:
‘No. God didn’t just put the rainbow in the sky. … God put the rainbow in the clouds themselves — in the worst of times, in the meanest of times, in the dreariest of times — so that at all times the viewer can see a possibility of hope.
That’s what a library is.
It is amazing, for me, to have been taken to a library when I was eight. I had been abused and I returned to a little village in Arkansas. And a black lady … knew I wasn’t speaking — I refused to speak — for six years I was a volunteer mute. She took me to library in the black school. The library probably had 300 books — maybe. The books were given to the black school from the white school and, often, there were no backs on the books. So we took shingles, cut them down to the size of the book, got some cotton and then pretty cloth, and covered those shingles and then laced them from the back, so that the books were beautiful. And those were the books she took me to see. She said, “I want you to read every book in this library.”
It seemed to me thousands of books. I have now, in my home in North Carolina, a library of about 4,000 books. But at that time, I thought, “Can I get to it? Will I live long enough?” I don’t say I understood those books, but I read every book, and each time I [would] go to the library, I felt safe. No bad thing can happen to you in the library.’
Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928–May 28, 2014), American poet, memoirist, author, historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, stage and screen producer, director, performer, singer and civil rights activist.
So, at this festive time of year, make sure you spare a thought for your librarian. You cannot know the difference they can make in a child’s life.