When I was growing up in Savannah, Georgia, our public libraries were segregated. Carnegie, which was the black library, is on the east side of town, miles away from my west side neighborhood. The main (white) library is situated in the center of the city, housed in an elegant white columned building. Carnegie was a lifeline for many of Savannah’s black children when it was our only library. The children’s room downstairs housed a collection and was a respite for many of us before we “graduated” upstairs when we got older and in high school.
In our high school years, for those of us who lived on the west side, when we had an assignment that required research materials or a book from the public library, we would take two buses across town to get to Carnegie. Most of the time the books we needed were not in circulation at Carnegie, which, it seemed, had limited resources. The card catalog designated where the book was housed. We would take the card from the catalog to a librarian and she would “order” the book to be delivered to Carnegie because African Americans couldn’t go in the main library.
“It will be here next week,” the librarian would tell us. Then we would get back on the bus, transfer again to a second bus and then return to the library the following week to pick up our books.
What a burden it must have been to force black teachers to build in two weeks of lesson planning, knowing how long it would take just to secure a book, much less the time we needed to read it. Years later, as a university professor when I encountered students who waited until the last minute to work on an assignment, I would share the southern equivalent of “we had to walk 10 miles to school in the snow” story by telling students how much planning went into preparing to get a book just so we could do our assignments.
“What if we had waited until the last minute?” I asked students at Savannah State University.
I’m not sure my story had an impact on getting students to begin working on assignments earlier. It just infuriates me that in the 21st Century, young people take so much for granted, even something as simple as how to manage time when they can get any book they need by walking across campus to the library, or with a couple of clicks on amazon.com, or “Google” the information.