Your Library Stories

Library users share precious memories of their library experiences.

I was a part-time library employee from 1956 to 1960 while I was in school. During that period, I worked at the old library on Rose St., the interim library on Eleanor St. (while the new library building was being built) and the present Central Library on Rose St. I worked as a page shelving books and putting shelved books in order and as a student assistant checking out books to patrons. What do I remember about working there? I remember Miss Lillian Anderson, my supervisor. She was very accommodating in setting up my work schedule. In the summer of 1957, I was not working at the library. I broke my right arm in an accident. Miss Anderson took me back to work anyway, so I learned to put the book cards in the check-out machine left-handed. Miss Anderson was a wonderful person and a great person to work for! I have good memories working at the library.

Paul M

I remember with great affection the old Eastside Library, located on East Main Street in the early 1940s. As a small child I lived within walking distance and visited often. Being quite shy, I avoided the rather stern looking, aloof white woman who worked there, and always sought out the warm and friendly black woman who went out of her way to get to know what I liked and to help me. Her name was Alma Powell. I have such affectionate memories of her, and how knowledgeable she was. I was never disappointed in her selections.

She encouraged and challenged me, and I know she was instrumental in my lifelong love of books. To me she is the epitome of what a librarian should be. I was so thrilled when a library branch was named in her honor! No one deserved it more.

Sharon H.

When I was little, just after I learned to read, my parents went grocery shopping on Friday evening. They also went to the library and brought back books for me to read that week. It was part of the Friday schedule. My parents brought me the Mary Poppins books, the Dr. Doolittle and Lassie books. I had fairy tales and animal stories; they didn’t waste time on books that were geared only for a first grader. They wanted me to learn and grow up with books. It worked! I still have a very eclectic taste when it comes to books, and I love having them around me.

I’m very grateful to my parents for encouraging me to read beyond what was considered my grade level. I can still remember the adventures I took with Dr. Doolittle. I have always looked at the Kalamazoo Public Library as a haven and place of peace. When I was little, the children’s department was in the basement of the (old) building. I always thought the building was magical. Not only did it contain a wonderful world of books, but it also had a museum.

The children’s area was on the top floor, and I remember being awed by the wonders it held. There was an area right in front of the big windows (to me they were big) that had an old-fashioned room. I loved to go up there and let my imagination loose. This was a time when even children understood the look but don’t touch rule. My parents would let me go into the museum while they were searching for their own books. I thought I was so grown up! I for one was sorry to see my childhood special place torn down. As an adult, I understand it was an old building but as a child, it was my place and I loved it!

Kathlyn B-V.

I actually have two stories: The first occurred in the “old” building when I was a child--around 1950. I was with a group of children in the library but snuck away to see the mummy in the upper floor museum. A bagpiper started to play on the landing, and I was trapped alone in the museum terrified.

The second happened in the late sixties when I had a job in the “new” building with reference librarians Miss Miller and Mr. Toepffer who selected news articles to be preserved on grey mat. I used a small iron to attach the articles to sticky paper. Then used a hot press in the library basement to attach to the grey mat. The basement was a museum storage area. My press was between a taxidermy horse and the elevator shaft--which made a lot of noise. Also terrifying.

Patricia J-V.

When my two sons were preschool ages, I enrolled them in story time at the Oshtemo Branch of KPL. This was around the years 1984-85-86. Their storyteller was John Griffith, a former KPL employee. He was very animated and thus, all the children were attentive. The parents, who were usually the mothers of the attendees, could sit on the left side of the building where we socialized. I got to meet a lot of neighborhood parents and my children shared time with other children in a very welcoming environment. To this day, we have long lasting friends from this first encounter initiated by the Oshtemo branch of KPL. Thank you KPL for memorable times.

Linda Marie B.

My most impactful moment at the library was when, in 3rd grade, I learned about the Titanic disaster. I begged my mom to take me to the library. I remember the exact spot on the ground floor where the books were stored. I checked out every single book I could about Titanic and read them all in one weekend. It started a passion that has grown larger to this day and changed my life. I am now a longstanding member of the Titanic Historical Society.

I have made friendships with people around the world; particularly, with a very famous author, historian, and THS vice president, George Behe. He visited me in Kalamazoo, and I took him to several of my favorite places, like The Michigan News Agency. I showed him ‘my library,’ including the exact spot where I stood when I first saw the Titanic books. I took him to the local history room on the second floor, where he admired the stunning stained-glass window, and the view of The Park Club and Bronson Park.

I shared my “Happy Place” with him. I had the pleasure of showing him microfilms of our Kalamazoo Gazette from April of 1912, with the local view of the Titanic disaster. It was a surreal experience, to sit next to one of the world's leading experts, viewing together the events that transpired, and the local impact of the disaster together. It is one I will never forget. I am carrying on the family tradition! I take my nephews to the library whenever I get the opportunity! We go for the pleasure of the children’s library, and we also go for help with book reports and science projects.

I am grateful to the library for not only these experiences, but for The Hub. I spent 2 years there, painstakingly scanning 26 rolls of slides: scanning documents, photos, converting VHS to DVD and digital, and even making cell phone ringtones! I miss people who have passed on so much. To hear my grandfather say, “hi, sweetheart,”my grandmother playing “How Great Thou Art,” or the voice of the love of my life, saying, “Hello?” can bring them closer to me, a daily reminder of our bond. I am so blessed to have this bedrock of my life in my hometown! Thank you so much!

Mary S.

We were about to have a baby: contractions had begun, and the doctor said go to the hospital now. However, I insisted that we must stop at the library on the way, to return borrowed VCR tapes. I was certain they would not be turned in timely if it wasn’t done right then. My family gave me appalled grief about that, but I think it was the right decision. After all, we made it to the hospital with hours to spare before my daughter was born.

Nina B.

The children’s section featured a huge window, sadly I can't recall the time I spent looking out the window, but rather the time I spent with my back to the window. Light from that window coming over my shoulders illuminated the books on a special desk and bench which all the children clamored to use. I’m not sure how big it was but the childhood memory says it could seat half dozen young readers. I have no idea how many times I read “Paddle to the Sea” while seated there. Two other stories I loved to read there were “Blueberries for Sal” and “Caps for Sale.” Other books I read multiple times include “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” “Chrissy at the Wheel,” and anything by Lois Lenski.

Summers were extra special; I could ride my bike to the library and often did. One summer the entire Washington Square area was overrun with tiny toads, you couldn't avoid them. I remember trying to catch some in front of the library. I must have been barefoot because soon my foot was bleeding from a cut on my foot, the scar remains on the arch of my right foot. The dear librarian (I hope I recall the name right, Miss Shrier–loved her gentle ways) brought me inside and tended my wound before calling my mother to come get me. I have no memory of how my bike got home, but I suspect my sister rode it. I think often of those toads and that event when I see the Washington Square Library.

Louise B.

In my teens, I used to spend a lot of time at the central branch of the Kalamazoo Public Library. I met many friends through KPL's programs, and I invited my friends from school to come down to the library to be a part of the summer reading programs, and to join in the Young Adult Advisory Group that helped plan activities (while we ate far too many cookies and drank tons of soda in the library conference room on Saturday afternoons).

Pat McKenna was the YA librarian in those days. He did a great job of keeping us engaged in all that the library had to offer and was always very gracious when we just popped in to chat or otherwise distract him while he was working.

My final year in high school, KPL welcomed Kevin King to the team, who continued to do a great job on teen engagement while looking out for new innovations for the coming generation of youth.

KPL has always been a great gathering place for our community, and I feel so fortunate to have been a part of these programs in my younger days.

Charles M.

When our three children were young in the 1970s-1980s, it was not unusual for our family to visit the downtown library at least twice a week. Each child would leave with enough books to get them through the next few days until our return. I had forgotten about our frequent visits until about 20 years later when I was standing in line at Miller Auditorium. The lady in front of me turned, smiled at me, and said she remembered me from those long-ago days. She even remembered our children’s names!

Judy S.

I grew up in a small town nearby and Kalamazoo was the closest “city.” I always love to walk downtown and just take in all the beauty of the city. The Kalamazoo Valley Museum has always been one of my favorite places, so filed with wonderful things. I was a teenager by the time I got to see the inside of the central library and was wowed by how beautiful it is. The enormity of all those books makes it such a wonderful place.

Alexandria C.

I worked at KPL (Government Documents & the “Tech Center”) in the 1990s, when the big renovation happened. We had to load books from the stacks into large bins on wheels (in dewey decimal order of course!) and wheel them through a large hole in the basement wall to re-shelve next door onto temporary shelving. That way the public had access to a limited collection during the renovation. A photo of me doing so made it into the Kalamazoo Gazette!

Karen S.

The summer reading program brought special excitement as soon as school was out for the summer. We’d head to the library, sign up, and check out a bundle of books. Each trip to the library we’d return the books we’d read, our marker was moved along the board to designate the number of books toward our summer goal of 40, and more books were checked out. It was so fun to watch our marker move, and of course we all wanted to be at the head of the pack.

One summer the rules changed. We could complete the challenge by reading only 10 books, but we had to give a short book report to the librarian before our markers were moved along. Hmm, what could possibly cause that change? Did some of us forget to read our books?

The basement at the WS Library was another magical place, at least when Miss Shrier told stories. Several dozen children would gather regularly to hear this talented librarian make the pages come alive.

Louise B.

When I was a youngster in the early/mid-1950s, I spent a great deal of time at the Washington Square Branch of the KPL. I usually walked to the library from Edison Elementary School and stayed at the library until closing time darn near every day of the school year. My Mom never worried; she knew where I was.

One incident stands out for me. I was probably a second grader; I would go to the library's adult section door and stand in the doorway peeking in. I never went in because, after all, it was the adult section. The entrance to the adult section was right in front of the front desk back then.

One day, as I stood by the door, there was a tap on my shoulder, I turned around, and the librarian was standing behind me. She reached down and handed me an adult library card with my name on it. I don't remember her saying anything; she just smiled and walked away. That may very well be one of the proudest moments of my life.

Michael K.

My father was an avid reader and a longtime member of the Kalamazoo Public Library. He brought me with him every week to check out books and read them in the Children’s Room. I also explored the Gift Shop and museum on the second floor. These were special times, and they created a great love of reading for me and bonding time between a father and daughter. When my father passed in 2009, in his obituary, we asked that donations be made to The Kalamazoo Public Library as well as The Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation.

Nancy D.

For a year in my young adult life, I worked in the Children’s Room in the old library. The room was located in the lower level and had its own outside entrance. During the school year some of us were assigned to spend each day at a different school library, providing a way for children to access books even if they could not get to a branch or downtown. I loved that experience. Also, within that year the whole library was moved to the old girdle factory while the beautiful old buildings were demolished to make room for the present library to be built. For me that part was bitter-sweet. The new design was handsome and more spacious, but I had grown up with the warmth of the old.

Sharon H.

As a young man growing up in Kalamazoo, my Saturday ritual was to ride my bike downtown to the original Kalamazoo Public Library. I would spend hours there looking through books and magazines. The first thought that comes to mind, is that on the first floor, at the bottom of the stairs, there was a painting of “Custer’s last stand” that always intrigued me. I would study the detail every time I visited. It still intrigues me to this day......great memories!

Kenneth B.

My sister, Bobby & Doug, and myself would spend hours in the children’s library. I remember looking at books (that) Bobby, being the oldest, was able to look at; items we were not allowed. He would hold a viewer and put pictures in to look at them. Of course, he would let us look. When we became tired, we would go up to the adult library to see which one of us would be kicked out first. This happened 1952-1953.

W. Sue M.

When I was a child, I always looked forward to Tuesday afternoons because that was when the bookmobile would be in my neighborhood. I loved walking the few blocks from my house to the corner of Hillcrest and Oakland Dr. to see what books I could find. Fifty plus years later I can still remember the excitement of climbing aboard to find new books (it seemed to me that the inventory would change every week and there were so many new discoveries each time I visited). We felt that the driver and the librarian were like close friends who always greeted us with a smile. I cherish those memories.

Chuck C.

The Washington Square Library was indeed a magical part of my childhood. The building is gorgeous and just looking at it I knew there was something special inside. The moment of entry one’s sense of smell detects something unique, there is a very special smell I associate with and only with that library. I never knew what it was, but somehow, I thought it must be floor wax. A few years ago, I was back after not being in the building for at least 50 years. I was not disappointed; the smell was still there.

Louise B.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, my parents owned rental property on Stockbridge Avenue. On Saturdays I would accompany my father while he did maintenance work there. I would often walk to the Library. I remember going downstairs to the children’s section. I loved the round tower. I would pretend I was a princess in my castle.

Later, when the new library was built downtown, I would wait there after my piano lessons with Mr. Henderson for my mother to pick me up after work. I loved the Egyptian mummy.

Ruth K.

I lived on the east side of Kalamazoo when I was growing up. I remember walking to the Eastwood Library on East Main St. I loved seeing the lovely, welcoming face of the librarian, Mrs. Powell. I can visualize a big poster that was up that had a trail, and for every book you read, your progress on the trail was marked. I felt very proud to reach the end of that trail.

Carol V.

When we lived in Kalamazoo as kids my mother worked at the downtown library. I remember when the museum was attached to it and we would check out the cases that have different kits about different cultures, and we would take them for show and tell and school. I thought that was so awesome! Now that we are back in Kalamazoo and have lived here for 20 years, we frequent the Oshtemo library.

We are proud to have such a history in this library and my children love coming to the library. When it closed at the beginning of the pandemic everyone was quite sad. We go to the library at least once a week. It has become a good habit in our family.

Laura O.

I remember when I was in early elementary school in the 1960s, going to the Washington Square Library with my mom and brother. Mom regularly took us to story time, which I loved. One specific memory is of the glass and wood bookcase to the left of the entry area, inside across from the check-out area. There was a full display of all the little “Peter Rabbit” books. The display made me want to look at each of the books.

Sharon R.

No reminiscing about the library would be complete without noting the technology changes affecting the checkout system. In the beginning, everything was handwritten. Each library book had a pocket inside the front cover which contained a card about 3” x 6” containing the name of the book, the author, and other significant information such as the Dewey Decimal number for non-fiction books. Below that and on the back were several lines. To my recollection I simply signed the card, showed my library card to the librarian. And she stamped the due date on each card which she kept and slipped another card with the due date into the pocket and off I went with the precious books.

I must have been about 10 when new technology hit the scene. My new library card had a small metal strip attached to it, and the strip had the imprint of my library card number. When I checked out a book, the card was slipped into a machine and the librarian put the book card in its own slot. Click, my card number was transferred to the book card. Click again and the due date was stamped on a separate card that was slipped into the pocket of the next book I would read. Awesome!

Oh, the changes I’ve seen. KPL, great memories. Thank you.

Louise B.

From as early as I can remember, I have loved going to the library. I was reading newspapers before I was 2 years old, and always fascinated by books and knowledge; they took me to places I couldn’t even imagine and have been such a vital part of my life, it feels like it is a part of my DNA. My grandparents would take me “Downtown” to visit their favorite stores and restaurants; and the Rose St library/museum was always the high point of my trips. My mother and I bought several books at the library sales. I remember fitting as many books as I could in a grocery paper bag! I bought early editions (for .05 each!) that are still treasured to this day.

Mary S.

Our mom bought my sisters and me to the library often. There used to be a sign outside the Children’s Room in the main location that listed the number of books that could be borrowed, so she asked if we could take more than the limit! My mom also got permission for us to borrow books from of the adult section at a time when children’s cards didn’t allow that. She believed that we could read whatever we felt able to understand.

When I was 16, I became a page at the Oshtemo branch, and I can still envision the authors, titles, and call numbers on the shelves as they were then.

I really appreciate the KPL’s influence on my child- and young adulthood reading habits.