Keyi Cui

Every weekend as a kid, my morning routine would include jumping out of bed early Saturday morning and turning on the television to watch my cartoons. My siblings and I would sit cross-legged on the couch, absorbed by the bright colors of Rugrats flashing from the television. We laughed at the silly adventures Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil and Anjelica had as the clueless adults went about their lives.

After the shows were over and we had finished our breakfast, my siblings and I would head back to our rooms and change. After having our eyes glued to the television for so long, we would go to the library to read.

Saturday afternoons were always reserved for weekly visits to the library. Each of us would borrow five or six slim chapter books and pack them into our backpacks to read for the week. When I discovered how to put books on hold, I thought I could rule the world. Suddenly, I could get the newest Cam Jansen mystery or reread “The BFG” anytime I wanted with a simple search and click of the button. The book I wanted would be waiting for me the next week when I came back.

The Cam Jansen mysteries were my favorite books. I would rip through them, amazed at the protagonist’s photographic memory. One day, I thought, I’ll be as cool as her, solving mysteries everywhere I went. Without my local public library, I wouldn’t have found my childhood role model, Cam Jansen.

The McKinley Park Library is one of the busiest libraries in Brooklyn, serving a community of around 48,000 people. Located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, many children come to this library after school every day and during weekends to hang out with friends. They offer different services ranging from after school tutoring to reading groups. The library can act as any social space, at once a Yu-Gi-Oh! dueling spot and a group project meeting place.

This library was one of my favorite childhood spots because of all the fun I had there. It allowed me to be unapologetic about my love for reading and to be enthusiastic about all the stories that came along with each book

While the McKinley Park branch of the Brooklyn Public Libraries is not gone, I have since outgrown this library. The weekends I spent there have almost been lost in the memories of my childhood, and I honestly don’t really remember much about the books I read there. I don’t even have a library card anymore.

Recently over spring break, I stepped inside the library for the first time since sixth grade, and I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the smallness of the space. When I was a child, the library seemed overwhelmingly large, its bookshelves brimming with books. Now that I am almost double the height of the kids the library attracts, I see a library that is in need of some type of renovation. Just one story tall, there is a somewhat limited selection of books to choose from. The computers are outdated and the floors are scratched from generations of kids running around.

I no longer see the same magic in the library that I did when I was a child. For the past seven years of my life, I had walked past the place that I used to frequent every weekend as a child. It’s unsettling to think about how I could have forgotten the place where I read my first chapter book or discovered the wonders of making friendship bracelets with the girls I met there.

Yet, despite this sense of loss, I can’t help but appreciate all that this library has given me. My parents immigrated to the States in the late nineties without any knowledge of English. No matter how much they wanted to, they could never help my siblings and me with school. The library offered me the opportunity to gain access to knowledge that would not have been available to me outside of this space.

Like many of the children in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, the McKinley Park Library gives people the chance to gain power through knowledge and through books. This branch has served the community for over a century now and will continue to do so for so many kids ahead of me.

Now that I am at Yale, my libraries contain shelves and shelves of books, offering resources beyond what I could have possibly imagined. The reading rooms are beautiful, lined with dark oak panels and illuminated by colored light shining through the stained glass windows, but I will always cherish my childhood library where I first found my love for books.

Joyce Wu | joyce.wu@yale.edu .