Carl Sandburg wrote, “Nothing happens unless first a dream.” I have heard another American author and educator, Ruby Payne, apply this theory as she lectures about the importance of providing a “future story” to every child. By future story, Dr. Payne means exposure to potential career opportunities. Dr. Payne’s research suggests that children must dream about possible opportunities in order to remain academically inspired.
In my home, there was never a shortage of future stories. I was blessed to grow up in a family where I was told that I could be a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, or anything else that I might dream to be. And like many kids, I had an ever evolving list of career dreams: naturalist, teacher, reporter, lawyer, accountant, nonprofit director. In fact, I am still motivated by my ever-changing career goals. I still spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to be when I grow up and finding ways to learn more about the topics that inspire me.
Besides home and school, there was another very special place in North Baltimore where I literally feasted on future stories: the public library. If I close my eyes, I can remember it all: the smell, the sounds, even the way the books were arranged. It is summer 1969 again.
“The green card in the back of my library book says that today is the due date. In order to avoid a library fine of two cents per day, I grab my bike, my library card, and my books and pedal up to the library. The only bad thing about the library is it has too many rules: I break the first one by throwing my bike in the front yard. Next, I open the front door and loudly plop my return book in the big book depository right inside the front door. That’s the second broken rule.
Next, I tiptoe by the serious librarians into the hushed silence. I stealthily walk along the north windows about half way to the back of the library. I kneel down at the bottom shelf of my favorite aisle: biographies. Here I find a virtual smorgasbord of biographies written for young adults. I just returned one about Babe Didrikson Zaharias, a talented athlete who was a gold medalist in track and field and a professional golfer. Many of these books seem like old friends to me. My favorites are about Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, and Annie Oakley. After leafing through all of the biographies that I haven’t yet read, I decide on a biography about Harriet Tubman. The dustcover says she is an abolitionist. I’m not sure what that means but it sounds exciting to me.
After finding the next biography to read, I visit the magazine section and flip through the latest edition of my favorite kids’ magazines. Luckily, a couple of my friends are also in the library, so we cluster around a study table and whisper a bit until a librarian shushes us. Since we are in a pack and feeling especially bold, we ask to listen to an album in the listening room. The librarian puts the album on the record player for us and closes the door behind her. This is another opportunity for giggling.
After exhausting all opportunities for library mischief, I pull out my well-worn library card and check out my new books, hop on my bike, ride home, and start reading. Soon I am immersed in another time and place. It is not North Baltimore in 1969 but Dorchester, Maryland in 1835 and Harriet, a young slave, spends her time spends her time working as a maid, a field hand, and a cook.”
There is no doubt that my childhood was full of future stories. If I could dream it, there was always a caring adult assuring me that I could accomplish it. Oddly, some of the best future stories of my childhood were actually past stories, the life tales I found in the young adult biography section at the North Baltimore Public Library, tales about adventurers, political activists, athletes, pioneers, actresses, and even an abolitionist. Once I read about another person’s accomplishments, it was added to my list of potential life goals. In hindsight, I see now that the North Baltimore Public Library was truly a transformational asset in my life, even if there were a few more rules than I preferred in 1969.