The only time I’ve ever seen a mongoose in the wild was at a library used book sale. We were wandering Maui, looking for something to read in the days before you could download hundreds of books onto a Kindle at home in preparation for a trip. I’d read an article on traveling light that suggested carrying a paperback on the plane and then stocking up on books at a used book store upon arrival at your destination.
It sounded like a good idea at the time, but soon I found myself in Kihei with nothing to read. It wasn’t as if we weren’t watching whales and swimming in the ocean and eating ripe pineapple but, during the in-between times, I wanted, no, needed, to read.
Which brought me to my first, and only, wild mongoose. As you might imagine, there weren’t that many used bookstores on Maui, but there was the MFOL, the Maui Friends of the Library used book store. Because Hawaiian real estate is expensive and library volunteers tend to be thrifty, the MFOL used bookstore was off on a side road that turned into gravel that eventually brought us to a cluster of rusty metal farm buildings. No longer part of a plantation, these buildings had been loaned out to various nonprofit organizations, such as the MFOL.
As we pulled in, I saw a mongoose moving along the edge of a building and then tucking itself underneath an old wall. Mongooses are an introduced species in Hawaii and have wreaked the predictable havoc on the islands, not unlike tourists, if you think about it, but at that moment all I thought about was Rikki-Tikki-Tavi from my childhood reading. I never would have seen the mongoose if not for the MFOL. Libraries have a tendency to draw the traveler away from the usual tourist traps and into the everyday life of local people.
The MFOL used book store was in a shed made of sheet metal, with a substantial gap between the walls and the roof for air circulation, I suppose. Inside were shelves and shelves of thoughtfully curated books, reflecting the careful choices of serious readers. I had found my way to my own kind.
For many travelers, exploring a new library provides a feeling of coming home, whether it be a library in an historic log cabin in Packwood on White Pass, or a tiny library in John Day, Ore., or an English language used book store in Mazatlán. Libraries tend to be safe and welcoming, with people of all descriptions using their Wi-Fi or settling in comfortably to read or exploring their architecture and collections.
During the holidays, our mailboxes get stuffed with solicitations from worthy organizations. I hesitate even to mention it because library patrons are generous throughout the year, but I will remind you of one place where you are always welcome, no matter who you are. I encourage you to think about a place where you can always feel at home, your local public library.
This year, come home for the holidays, bringing your own gift of volunteer time or donated items or monetary support. Come home for the holidays, to your library.
Sue Hallett is the president of Friends of Whitman County Library.