Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Libraries I Have Known

The blogs of others remind me of many things I want to ponder. Donna's blog (http://donnasbookpub.blogspot.com) reminded me this week of National Library Week and caused me to consider libraries I have known. I have a faint memory of getting my first library card when I was about six, holding my mother’s hand and striding up a few concrete steps into a dark-sided building. Our local library was a tiny, one room building and constructed like a shoe box. It sat across the street from the local creamery. An old building, the floors creaked, the lights cast a dusky glow, and the air was a bit musty from age and books. But oh, how I loved the place! I worked my way through all the sections, toting home volumes and tomes. In the summers of junior high, my friend and I walked or biked to the library for Susie Nurse books almost everyday, followed by a nickel coke at the local drug store.

By the time I got to college, libraries often meant heavy reading and hard work instead of reading for joy. At PSU I did not appreciate the old library as much as I should have, although I loved going up on second floor when I could. There you could hide in a tiny cove with a table and chair sitting next to heavy, leaded windows without screens that you could roll out. Spring was wonderful there with a book in hand, bees buzzing in the lilacs under the windows, and air fresh as a newly cut lemon drifting in adding to an already active case of spring fever. That building still sits on campus, but a lovely new Axe Library with all modern conveniences including a coffee bar is now where students study. Somehow, I think I would prefer that old grand dame of a library I used years ago.

As newlyweds from Kansas, we lived at Village Square apartments in Hazelwood, about two blocks from the local shopping center. The St. Louis County bookmobile stopped here every two weeks, and while I was hunting a teaching job in a market overloaded with Language Arts teachers and becoming brave enough to face St. Louis traffic, I visited the bookmobile, a whole new library concept for me. It was books brought TO me and almost to my door.

When the Vietnam War was winding down and the aircraft industry was moving into a slump, DH was frantic over his job’s future. Every Monday and Thursday was pink slip days, a nerve wracking experience for the farm boy who knew nothing of contracts, unions, of lay-offs. Tuesday and Wednesday were the only “peaceful” days of the week for us; he immediately started hunting a non-airplane design job. He wanted to work for the famous Daisy guns in Arkansas, but Carthage and the auto industry was what materialized.

Carthage was a small town, friendly in its own way, but it was a town with stiff social barriers and closed avenues for making connections. People who had lived here a quarter of a century were still considered “newcomers” or “nice, but not natives”. The Public Library, an old Carnegie building of Carthage marble and rounded domes was where I found friendly faces and open thoughts on both the clerks and the shelves. I went regularly for smiles and reading. By the time our children arrived, going to the library was weekly treat. I pushed strollers to the library, on to town, poked around dime stores and walked the two miles back home.

Alice in Wonderland sculpture by Bill Snow at Carthage Public Library.

Eventually I wanted to give back and helped formed a Friends of the Library group for supporting the library with activities and fund-raising. I was full of ideas, but the librarian at the time was a skeptical man. My first adventure was bringing William Childress to town. Childress, born in the Ozarks, was a poet and a columnist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch at the time. His evening program turned out to be standing room only and great night of stories and music by Chilly, as he was called. Another Ozark poet, Joan Yeagley, did a day program with equal success.

When I suggested we get Janet Dailey to come speak and do a book signing, no one thought it was possible. The Friends nixed the idea and the librarian still had his eyebrows lifted in doubt. One day I just decided to send out a feeler on my own. Three days after I mailed my letter, I came home to an answering machine message from Dailey’s husband and manager. Not only would Janet come, but she would donate all proceeds to the library. I had to get busy telling the Friends board and librarian we had work to do as Janet Dailey was on her way. Janet was a congenial person who spoke about her books and writing, greeted fans, and signed books. It was a great event.

I had been substituting for years as my children were growing up, but once college fees were on our doorstep, I took a more permanent job at the junior high. I was greeted by and made good friends with the junior high librarian, now called Media Specialist. I connected students with the library at every possible turn, helped form a reading club, promoted speakers. For a treat in any free time, I read Way Back in the Ozarks by Monk Hefley to my students. They begged for these stories, and Mr. Hefley agreed to come to the school one day a year. He had lunch with us, spoke to all the classes, and gave me tee shirts with his book cover on them. Mrs. Stone had to replace copies of his books often as the readers wore them out. My students wanted to reread the stories, and other classes got wind of the great stories I was sharing with my students and wanted to read them too.

I still love libraries. About five years ago, a friend and I gathered up a few retired teacher friends and formed the Toter book club. (Terrific Old Teachers Enjoy Reading…and have toted many bags of books.) We use library books or donate our own titles to the library once we have held our meetings. We make book donations to the library instead of flowers for celebrations or grief condolences. At the moment there are six of us, representing physical education, Language Arts, Reading, elementary education, geography. Our interests are varied, but we all believe in and support libraries.


BECKY said...

What a wonderful post! I just love learning all these things about you!!

irishoma said...

Hi Claudia,
How lovely! The photos and the stories are inspiring and uplifting.
And thanks for mentioning my blog.