First Library Experience

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My love affair with libraries didn’t begin in a library. It actually began in a bookmobile. It was the fifties and one would roll into our rural neighborhood in northeastern Massachusetts and stop almost in front of our home. My mother, younger brother, and I would climb the steps (along with a few neighbors) and walk down the aisle eyeing the books packed in on both sides. Two people manned this magical vehicle—a driver and a librarian to check the books in and out.

I went online in hopes of finding a picture of a bookmobile that might look similar to what I remembered and was delighted to find my bookmobile and my first librarian.

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Haverhill Public Library bookmobile, 1956. Photograph courtesy of the Senter Digital Archive at the Haverhill Public Library, courtesy of the Trustees of the Haverhill Public Library.

It was from this very bookmobile that I read my way through the Hardy Boys and some of Nancy Drew, but my first love was the Black Stallion series. There was Old Yeller, My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty, Bambi, and The Yearling—obviously, anything with an animal in it struck a chord.

We knew mom appreciated this service—she was busy taking care of us, doing the bookkeeping for the family business and feeding the hired help–but on the day the bookmobile was coming she would get ready. The bathroom was always clean for their use and she would make them a special snack. She was a terrific baker and she’d often make blond brownies and in the summer she served her iced tea. The bookmobile crew would take a short break visiting with mom while having an afternoon snack. You want those recipes, don’t you? Click here.

Welcome Signs

In previous posts I’ve shared the highlights of my 2018 road trip where my belief in the power of public libraries to enrich the communities they serve was only strengthened.

In just under a month I drove almost 9,000 miles-about 6,000 of those alone. I “saw” 31 libraries and toured 27. Some of the libraries I visited had wonderful ways to welcome us before we stepped through their doors. Here are some of my favs:

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Toto at the Wamego Public Library, Wamego, KS

steamboat Springs Library, Hazie

“Hazie” Werner at the Bud Werner Memorial Library, Steamboat Springs, CO

Hays PL Sign over door

Hays Public Library, Hays, KS

Jefferson County Library North Denver

Jefferson County Public Library, North Kipling,  Denver, CO

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Laramie County Library, Cheyenne, WY

I can’t leave out the parking garage next door to the Kansas City Library with it’s 25′ high wall of books covering an entire city block.

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Kansas City Public Library parking garage, Kansas City, MO

When I started out I only had one goal-to visit at least one public library in each state I traveled through-starting in New York.

When I left NYC it started to sprinkle. By the time I was in New Jersey I was driving in heavy traffic on a multi-lane highway going 70 MPH in pouring rain. There went my goal.  Am I disappointed? Not at all.

When I was on the road I loved it when I saw this symbol:

Library Symbol

I wanted a bumper sticker saying, “I brake for libraries”

Let’s be on the lookout for that library symbol-after all, libraries are the last place where anyone and everyone is welcome with no expectation of spending money. Such a deal.

Thank you for joining me on my road trip-I look forward to sharing my future library visits with you!

 

Streator Public Library, Streator, Illinois

Where is Streator? It’s less than 100 miles southwest of Chicago and you can’t miss it if you are making sure you miss Chicago because you’ve driven through enough big cities, thank you very much.

Streator’s first library happened before it was incorporated as a city in 1882. The Streator Library Association was based out of various local businesses and lasted from 1871-1875. When it failed The Ladies Library Association (I am so fond of those Ladies) was formed in 1875 to carry on until it eventually ended up in the Plumb Opera House. This was fortuitous because the owner, Ralph Plumb (Streator’s first mayor), was a personal friend of Andrew Carnegie. When Carnegie began his library building program Plumb reached out to him and that is why Streator has (in my opinion) a larger library (built in 1903) than many other Carnegie libraries. The Classic Revival building that I visited is the only physical library Streator has ever known.

 

Streator ceiling, dramatic setting

The round circulation desk is on the first floor below this dramatic dome.

Philanthropy continued with an addition in 2005, making the building ADA accessible, with a bathroom on the first floor and an elevator. But no workspace was added, so new materials are prepared at the front circulation desk. I consider that the biggest drawback of the building and I applaud the librarians covering books etc. with no dedicated space.

Anyone coming in the Library could use a computer without needing to show ID or sign in-nice.

Seeing this display had me recalling many happy memories of when I was a 4-H girl. Head, Heart, Hands and Health. (It’s been awhile-I’d forgotten what the fourth H stood for.)

4H

Here I am at the Topsfield Fair (in MA) in 1957. I think I got a fourth place ribbon.

ET at Topsfield Fair 1957 4H

Leaving the Streator Library I continue east. It’s time for me to head for the barn.

State Law Library, Des Moines, Iowa

You know how it is…you look forward to something so much that when it finally happens it’s a disappointment-it can’t possibly live up to all that expectation.

This was not one of those times.

I’d wanted to visit the Law Library for years, but that’s it-I hadn’t given a thought to the building it was housed in so I was caught off-guard at my response to it.

I drove up to the capitol and there was Abe reading with Tad. img_1933

The statue was unveiled in 1961 on the 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address but it was the first sculpture to memorialize Lincoln as a father, rather than as president. It was primarily paid for by Iowa school children via a statewide penny drive.

The capitol building was constructed from 1871-1886 and is similar to many public buildings built around that time but as I walked through it and up the grand staircase to the upper floor I was impressed with the attention to detail-twenty-nine types of imported marble were used and the various woods (walnut, cherry, catalpa, butternut and oak) were almost all from Iowa forests. Then there were the impressive murals and quotes on the walls. I was quite undone by the time I reached the doorway to the Law Library.

You can read more about the building HERE.

By the time I was actually in the library I was fighting tears. Me. Perhaps it was all those elementary and high school history lessons coming back-oh, I loved US History, but whatever it was, I can tell you that it was powerful.

I’m writing this 20 months after my visit and I can still feel the flood of emotion standing just inside the door.

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The 45′ tall room is flanked with book lined alcoves which are home to 105,000 volumes, many of which are rare-some date back to the 1530’s-pre-and post-Colonial America materials. Digitization was still ongoing when I was there.

There’s an impressive stained glass ceiling:

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The “Victorian styled” grand hall of the library is adorned with an intricately decorated tile floor and then there are the lacy wrought iron staircases.

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No wonder it has been called one of the most impressive and beautiful libraries in the world.

Dear reader, I am aware that this is not a public library, which is what my blog is about, but we are all old enough to know that there are always exceptions. I am so grateful that this was mine. Aren’t you?

 

 

 

North Platte Public Library, Nebraska

It was October 10, 2018 when I entered the North Platte (pop 24,000) Public Library and they were ready for Halloween. I took pictures to show my library when I got home-here’s one:

North Platte monster display

Plus, there were some book related gift baskets reasonably priced as a fund raiser.

North Platte book basker BEST

Nebraska became a state in 1867.  I was interested to learn that it is the only state in the US whose legislature is unicameral and officially nonpartisan. (BTW, I needed to look up unicameral.)

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The first library in North Platte was a Carnegie building that opened in 1911. I didn’t hear where they got their books before that-not a whisper about a ladies group or a philanthropic gentleman loaning out books prior to 1911. It makes me think there must be a story or two and if I lived there I’d be digging for it. Anyway, the current building was built in 1967 and although it was outgrown years ago the staff is doing a good job of serving the community.

North Platte Entrance

Entrance to North Platte Public Library

Through their state library they had been able to offer a very popular Makerspace but it was moving on in January 2019. When I was there the staff was working on being able to continue to offer it, even if on a smaller scale.  Now their website lists over a dozen items-from a book binder to a 3D printer. Good for them!

North Platte staff

From left: staff members Sarah Paulson, Brittany Roos, Kaycee Anderson

The outgrown building is a thorny problem for several reasons. There is no room to expand at the present location. A bond effort to purchase the old high school and renovate it into a new library failed in 2005. Since then the staff and supporters have been working hard saving toward a new building. At one point (when monies were saved) the City of North Platte, in all it’s wisdom, took it and added it to the General Fund. Poof, gone. I can only imagine how that felt-but, I can tell you that all these months later my back molars start grinding just thinking about it.  Since that sad event, a North Platte Foundation has been established to safely and specifically save for a new building. As of 16 months ago they had 5 million saved. Again, good for them!

As you can imagine, fund raising gets a lot of their attention. They have an annual cemetery tour which netted 6k that spring. They’d recently started to sell used books by the front door that is bringing in almost $100 a month. Their Friends group has one big fund raiser a year-a 3-day book sale in November. Bless their Friends group-they pay for windows, carpet and the furniture-big ticket items I think the City of North Platte should be taking care of…but, then what do I know?

Actually, I do know a few things. I know that libraries change lives. For the better. I know that monies spent in support of those libraries is one of the best investments a town or city can make.

Dover Public Library quote 2.20.20

Wyoming or Bust

When I left Utah (on 10.8.18) I was hoping to go northeast to Wyoming and then through South Dakota but the weather wasn’t cooperating so I traveled south from Salt Lake City toward Heber City and east to spend the night in Steamboat Springs, CO. I was pleasantly surprised to wake up the next morning to see the weather had cleared enough to head north to Cheyenne.

The Laramie County Library in Cheyenne was everything I’d hoped for and more. I knew it had its beginnings above a store in 1886. Then a Carnegie Library was built in 1902. Next there was a building at a new location in the 60s before the current 100,000 sf building was constructed in 2007. It won the ALA Library of the Year award in 2008 and has the distinction of being the first LEED/green building in Wyoming.

Walking around outside the building was a treat.

Cheyenne exterior with flying birds

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That is a BIG boot.

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Quotes on a brick wall by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Earl Jones, and even Dr. Seuss were thoughtfully done although I don’t remember seeing one woman quoted. I’m sure there were some-just not in the picture I took. Perhaps a woman said this one, “Knowledge is free at the library. Just bring your own container.” since the credit was given to Unknown. I’m going to think a woman said it.

I’ve gotten carried away with the exterior…now let’s go inside and see what’s happening.

There are three floors with the second floor dedicated to all things children. They have two storytime rooms, a teen area, study rooms, and, of course, computers.

On the other floors is everything else you could want in a library-even a resident author. Librarian Mary Gillgannon, is also an author of medieval/historical fiction: https://marygillgannon.com/

I did have to pay a dollar to use a computer, but no ID was checked. The fee is waived if the user cannot pay.

I visited a room with women who meet weekly from 10-4 to work on their fiber crafts. They bring their lunch and whatever they are working on for however long they can stay. I very much enjoyed looking at their projects.

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Here’s the teen room:

Cheyenne Teen Zone

You can see quotes on the walls, written by teens, on either side of the windows. This one stopped me:

Cheyenne Muslim wall quote

Libraries open doors and give each of us a voice. Libraries make us think new thoughts and look at the world from another’s perspective. And when we return we are better than when we left. As I headed east I knew I was better for having visited the Laramie County Library.

Bikes, Books…And Beets

It’s the beginning of October and the “Ours” part of our adventure is a wrap.  We’re briefly back in Utah and Jim and our son, Jeff, are busy checking all their options to avoid bad weather while heading east. When you’re on two wheels the weather is just about the most important thing happening.

Personally, I don’t see many options as the snowy Rockies are clearly between Utah and New Hampshire, but I leave the planning to them.

Here they are, ready to put on their helmets and head out on their Father-Son Road Trip.

jim and jeff leaving for nh

The next day they sent this picture from Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

jeff jim bikes steamboat springs

Clearly, they didn’t totally avoid the snow but they assured me that the roads stayed dry. I decided to believe them.

Meanwhile, I’m lingering a few days longer to continue visiting family and friends. If it seems as if I’ve posted a lot about Utah libraries you’d be correct…and I’m not quite done.

Last year my dear friend, Pauline and her husband, moved to the new Legacy Village in the Sugar House area of Salt Lake. They’d lived in the foothills of the city for decades and the main (award-winning) library had been their library since it opened in 2006, but they’d fallen in love with the branch near their new home. While I was visiting they gave me directions and I walked through a small,  charming park to reach the Sprague Branch and found their small, but charming Tudor-style library.

sprague library front

Opened in 1928, the American Library Association awarded it the Most Beautiful Branch Library in 1935. Renovations and updates over the years have increased it to just over 13,000 sf. Although the Sugar House area has grown as a popular shopping area, I’m happy to report that the library has retained its relevance for its neighbors.

Yes, that’s a sugar beet on the front lawn and, I agree, you don’t see that every day.

Here in 1850, the first Utah attempt was made to process sugar from beets. It failed. But experiments continued and in 1890 a plant was built nearby in Lehi, launching a successful sugar beet industry that eventually spread throughout the Mountain West.

Below is the reading room late one Saturday afternoon just before closing.

sprague library reading room

Heather Hart is the library manager and she commented on the silver lining resulting from a flood in the lower level in 2017.  The city is looking at the needed repairs as an opportunity to also make updates and renovations. The library will be adding a cafe, makerspace, and a bookstore.

I’m looking forward to returning to visit when the renovations are complete–oh, and to visit family and friends.

Turning Around

Friends have been asking various questions:

“Aren’t you sick of traveling yet?”  Not remotely. 

“Aren’t you tired of living out of a suitcase?”  Surprisingly, no.

“When are you coming home?” When I feel like it.

However, it’s the end of September and our weather apps say that there’s snow in the Rockies and the Midwest looks like storm central so Jim and I head east. I’m not saying I’ll go home, but I am traveling in that direction.

We drive through the Carr Fire area. Devastating. A sign as we enter Redding, CA says, “From these ashes we will rebuild” and many residents have posted homemade signs thanking the firefighters who fought it.

Whoa! Nevada is certainly different. You know you’ve entered an alternate universe when you have to walk through a room full of slot machines and smoke to get to the restroom.

Elko, Nevada was along the California Trail but no one stopped. A town did pop up when the Transcontinental Railway ended there. When the rail crews moved on, the town remained. It became a center for mining and ranching and today you can add gambling and tourism.

I decide to check out the Elko County Library System which has nine libraries. I visited the main one in Elko and a branch in West Wendover. The exterior of the Elko main branch has neat art on the building and in front of it.

I was sorry to miss seeing the county bookmobile that visits 23 locations in a two-week rotation. I do love bookmobiles.

Elko’s building was dedicated in 1974 through private donations and the “Library Services and Construction Act”, whatever that is.

Here’s the Elko County Library:

Elko Library exterior

This library is not in New England:

Elko Cowboy Boot.jpg

Kelly Eveleth is the Branch Manager in West Wendover. When I asked her what she considers her biggest challenge she quickly answered that it’s being alone. Recently the local post office was robbed and the lone postal worker was shot for the small amount of cash in the till.

The West Wendover Library is open five days a week for 30 hours. If Kelly takes any vacation time the library is manned by a volunteer.

West Wendover NV Kelly.jpg

Kelly’s colorful reading display promises adventure.

I started down that road when my mother helped me onto a bookmobile in the early 1950’s. Now I’m visiting libraries all across the country.

And I’m not going home yet.

So there.

The Library Book

The Library Book

Put on the brakes.

Stop the car.

I need to take a detour from my library visits to make sure you know about this book.

If I say it’s about the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library I’d be doing it a serious injustice and yet that is what it’s about. Orlean tells of the fire that destroyed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more. She tells of the massive investigation to attempt to determine who/what caused the fire. She tells of  the massive effort to save those 700,000 damaged books. And she tells of the massive effort to restore the library. All of that could have been boring reading but in her hands it’s compelling.

That said, The Library Book is much more.  As she writes the story of this one library she sweeps in every public library and the mission they have to serve their communities. This book is a love letter to anyone that loves books and libraries.

There were paragraphs I had to stop and read again. The writing was so good I took pictures of some of those paragraphs so I’d have them on my phone to reread.

No, I’ve never done that before.

I almost never purchase a book. I borrow them.

I bought The Library Book.

The Wild Trees

It was 2014 when retired forester, Ned Therrien, tracked me down at our library. He’d  come to tell me about his upcoming cross-country road trip with his wife, Jean. They were going to lots of national parks but he was particularly enthused about visiting the redwoods. Ned is a first-class nature photographer and he offered to give a library presentation about their trip when they returned.

Ned loves trees. I love trees too. But Ned REALLY loves trees.

He asked me if I’d read this:

Wild Trees

He recommended I correct this gaping hole in my reading. He was correct. It was my favorite non-fiction book that year.

Wild Trees: a story of passion and daring is about some crazy college students who have a passion for trees. Specifically the redwoods. Even more specifically, the tops of the redwoods.

At times I had to put the book down because I could not endure the suspense of them climbing 300′ trees without ropes, safety nets or other protective gear.

I did say they were crazy.

What they discovered in the tops of those trees blew me away: mosses, lichens, spotted salamanders, thickets of huckleberry bushes, and thick layers of soil sustaining plant life unknown to science.

I’m getting excited all over again just writing this.

I’d always wanted to see the redwoods but after reading Preston’s book I felt compelled to see them. Compelled, I tell you.

The morning we were going to see these wild trees a friend texted me saying, “you do know that they are sacred, don’t you?”. She isn’t one to toss around the word sacred. Jeez, as if I wasn’t already excited enough.

So, we walked among those giants; the largest and tallest organisms on earth.

Here’s a close-up of a tree:

Redwoods close up of bark

These magnificent trees can withstand the elements and live for centuries, but over 95% of them were gone by the late 60s. Logging did that. We humans did what the elements could not.

At one point, while I was taking pictures, a woman asked me if I had an iPhone. When I said yes, she offered to use it to take this pano picture of us by a “Big Tree”.

Redwoods Jim ET

The fine print: Height 286′, diameter 23.7′, estimated age 1,500 years.

Cool, huh? She showed me how, so later I took this:

The new from the old.

As promised, when they returned, Ned did a  presentation about his search for the tallest redwoods. I don’t want to make you feel badly if you missed it, but he did do a fine job.

As a consolation here is a short video.

Enjoy.