EILEEN FLOOD O’CONNOR | The Week
Books, bookstores, and libraries have been an endangered species for some time now. As more and more people spend their lives online, the need for a physical space to house and browse bookshelves has been called into question. However, there remains a segment of the population for whom this online “nether world” does not translate, and for whom “logging on” will never compare to “walking in” to a building filled not only with books — but with people who love them. My daughter, Erin, 12, is one of them.
Unlike many girls her age, Erin, who has an autistic spectrum disorder, does not have a phone, an email address, a Facebook page, or an Instagram account. To communicate with her, you pretty much have to be standing right in front of her and even then demand that she look you in the eye — a request which may or may not be followed depending on her mood and the person making the ask.
There are a magical few, however, who readily command her attention and sustain her eye contact. For several years now, the staff of our local library have not only welcomed Erin — and her service dog, a black Lab named Pablo — but engaged her in a continuous conversation.
Erin has always loved books: the way they look and feel, the pictures, the pages, the words. She is drawn to their physicality — generally the bigger and heavier the better. They are her constant companions — she is never without a book or three tucked under her arm or into bed beside her. While language came late and communication still poses its challenges, Erin, ironically, feels most at home in a space which reveres and celebrates words. She taught herself to read by memorizing what words look like. She learned that words together combine to tell a story and it is in these stories that she has found a medium that explains and enhances her experience of the world — and the passage of time itself.