Saturday, October 04, 2008

Library Memories: The Library

I had so many comments about a meme post that I wrote about growing up in a village library that I thought I would write a small series about my memories of it.

The best thing to do would be to start at the very beginning and describe the Moweaqua Public Library to you. I've searched through volume after volume of family photographs, and I haven't been able to find one single shot of that library, so I'm forced to spin a word picture, using the photo above as a reference point. In this photo, I'm six years old and standing in front of our apartment on Macon Street. At that time, Moweaqua had a population of roughly 1800 people. We all knew everyone, and no one locked their doors. Immediately to the left of the brick archway is another door: the back entrance to the dentist's office. Sometimes folks would be a bit confused. I'd hate to tell you the number of times someone would show up for their appointment and walk up on our porch, open the door, and step right on into our walk-in closet. It wasn't until they got lost in the kerfuffle of coats, shoes, boots and dresses that they'd get the idea that they might not be in Doc Foster's office.

Doc Foster's office was on the corner of Macon and East Main Street. To get to the library, all Mom and I had to do was turn right, walk past the front of the dentist's office, on past the firehouse, and we were at the library. (To this day, I still prefer a short commute to work.) There was a big iron step up to the door, and I quickly learned never to step on that thing in the summer when I was barefoot. Yee-OUCH! Right inside the door was a tiny vestibule, a door to the left that led to the Town Hall and a door to the right that led to the library.

Mom became the librarian before I ever started school, and I remember that the previous librarian hadn't done much to "rustle up customers". When Mom took over, most of the books in the library were published from 1920 to 1940, and this was twenty years later, so no wonder few people stepped foot inside the door! The library was long and narrow, and the building itself was rather decrepit. As long as we were there, there were huge jacks in the basement holding up the floor and all those books.

I vaguely remember that there were a few bookshelves lining the walls, a desk and chair for the librarian, and a couple of other chairs. The place was dark, dark, dark. Mom went to work. Her hardest task was getting the money that she needed from the library board, but once new members were in place, the financial side got easier. (I think she had to make some serious promises about increased circulation.) Mom managed to get the money for new bookshelves. I can't remember who built them, but I can remember painting them all. My clearest memories of the library are ones with new lighting where you could actually see where you were going and read the print on the page, of bookshelves lining the walls on both sides all the way down to the end of the room, and one long double-sided row straight down the middle. Mom's desk and chair were right at the front. She could keep an eye on the weather outside and the traffic, and be right there to greet everyone who came inside. There were a couple of chairs by the desk because the library quickly became one of the local hang-outs for readers in the area. Not only was Mom getting new books in stock, but with her various part time jobs, she had her finger on the pulse of the town. There were several times that I remember bringing chairs up from the back to accommodate everyone who wanted to sit with a pile of books in their laps and chat.

My domain was in the back where the children's books were. There was a big wooden table and six chairs back there. When I wasn't helping Mom by shelving books, I was back there at the table reading and doing my homework.

The library became busier and busier. The books were no longer shelved by the Dewey Decimal system, which made no sense to anyone in town; they were shelved by genre. The talcum-scented, white-haired ladies who liked to read Grace Livingston Hill now knew right where "their" books were. The weather-beaten farmers whose tan lines ended halfway up their foreheads knew where "their" Westerns were. Shelving by genre just made more sense, and it's something I do with my personal library here at home.

The old library had been dark and silent. The people who came in didn't speak much. The new library was lighter, there were new books to read, and news to be shared. This library wasn't one where people wanted to sit and do research. This was a library for busy people who wanted to come in, get something good to read and have a bit of a chin wag before running their next errand. Children were encouraged to come in because Mom worked hard at beefing up the children's section. Before there were only a few copies of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and all the Tarzan books. Now there was Dr. Seuss, Marguerite Henry, Walter Farley, the Childhood of Famous Early American Series, and on and on and on. I'd often find myself reading a book aloud to younger children. I can still hear them squeal and laugh in my mind.

The old place was coming to life--and becoming a huge part of mine.

[To be continued next Sunday.]


  1. Oh, Cathy. Thank you for sharing your memories. Your mother brought that library to life for the town. I can't wait to read next Sunday's postings. Thank you.

  2. Growing up in a library -- sounds like my childhood dream come true.

  3. Lesa: You're very welcome. I felt my mother looking over my shoulder as I typed, and I somehow knew that you would be the first to comment. Most people have no clue that it takes a lot of love to be a true librarian.

    Corey: For a bookaholic like me, it was my own slice of heaven. When I wasn't in the library, I was off taking care of my rabbits, or out with Grampa, or riding my bike way out in the country, making up all sorts of adventures as I pedaled (usually with a book in the basket).

  4. I remember so many dreary winter days in my Ohio hometown, curled up on my puffy coat on the windowsill at our library, with the forced air heat drying out my eyes, but keeping me toasty as I dug into a pile of books. The library has since been renovated, enlarged, and just changed. No big card catalog where you could stumble across something that looked intersting. No dusty smell. I hope they still have the kids' story hour on Saturdays and Tuesdays, though. I loved getting my little rug and stretching out on the floor to hear a story. Good memories. Thanks for the post!


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