I silently pondered that question, driving home from the library this afternoon.
I think I always knew books were important. I saw my mother reading constantly. It was her leisure activity of choice. And I loved it when she read aloud to us. She is very good at it. I loved the cozy feeling of snuggling up next to her after my bath/shower and listening to her take me to other lands and lives. My little girl thoughts, however, were taken up with exploring and adventure --acting out any book adventures, and making up my own adventures. I grew up spending more time outside than inside. When the sub-Saharan rainy season hit, it was necessary to spend more time indoors, and that's when I explored our bookshelves. (We didn't have TV.)
Don't get me wrong; I loved to read any time of the year, and my parents provided plenty of variety in the way of picture books, children's literature, encyclopedias, reference books, maps, etc. Reading was something I just did, without conscious thought, as common as breathing air. But being outside was living life to the fullest, as far as I was concerned.
The concept of reading changed for me the year I was twelve and the Banjul American Embassy School (B.A.E.S.) was formed in The Gambia, West Africa. (We'd already been living in The Gambia for three years when the school opened. My mom was one of the people responsible for that happening.) In that newly formed school was a small room that had been dedicated as the library. As soon as I stepped across the threshold of the library that first school day, and saw the shelves filled with books, something snapped alive inside. I had never before been given access to so many books. I tingled with unknown anticipation. It occurred to me that on these shelves were book adventures for me alone to discover, that my reading life could be a whole new private realm of adventure; something of my very own that no one could/would share. It seemed like a powerful concept to my twelve-year-old mind.
I spent a lot of time in there over the next two years, and read many of the books on those shelves. The library shelf discoveries led me back to our bookshelves at home, too. I became aware of the many wonderful books that were on our shelves that I had ignored up to that point. I have read voraciously ever since.
Do I think it was the library that created that deep love of reading? No. I think the foundation had been laid for years from being read to aloud by my dedicated mother, and from the home library my parents provided. I give my mother the credit. She wisely never pushed me regarding books; never told me what to read (although she gave me occasional suggestions) and showed me by example how important a reading life was.
What that library at B.A.E.S. (poor and meager by U.S. standards) did was awaken a powerful hunger in my mind I'd never felt before. To this day, I get tingles when I walk into a library.