When I was in elementary school I took an art class at the Greenville branch of the Jersey City Public Library. My teacher, Miss Oakley, was incredibly old by my pre-adolescent standards – old enough, I figured, that she had run out of room to grow any older.
Still, I liked her and her seriousness about a subject I loved, drawing. And I liked learning about watercolors, and wistfully recall my first attempt at still life, a sliced apple.
But the library itself I took for granted in the same way that I took automobiles and telephones for granted: why would anyone spend any time thinking of a world without them?
There is a proposal in Suffield, the Connecticut town where my wife and I now live, to tear down our current library and build a new one. Kent Memorial Library, built in 1972, was designed by the architect William Platner. He is known for his work in restaurant design, including a dining pavilion on the campus of Princeton University that looks suspiciously like Kent.
The library is unarguably light and airy, and might be a great place to have a hamburger, but seems poorly suited to hold a lot of books. Also, some people do not like the building’s contemporary design and feel it has not withstood the artistic test of time.
Nevertheless, it would cost the town a ton of money to embark on a new library project and opinion is divided on the subject.
A library card from any town in Connecticut is good in any other town as well. I frequently borrow books from our neighboring library in Warehouse Point, and I go to the library in Enfield if I want to look up anything that has appeared in The New York Times – they have a microfilm collection that includes the Civil War years and both World Wars.
Asnuntuck Community College, also in Enfield, has an impressively rich array of academic journals and newspapers available online, and if I can’t get an article using that route, I’ll send a request to Melissa at Manchester Community College and she’ll order it through interlibrary loan.
I no longer take libraries for granted, and now appreciate that at their core they are idealistic institutions: they make a world of ideas and information available to citizens regardless of income or social standing.
I always feel more encouraged about the future when I walk into a library and see that it is busy.
Growing up in a working class, multi-ethnic town, I developed an early and enduring awareness of the idea of “bettering yourself”: speaking correctly; learning from those who knew more than you did; reading.
If that sentiment prevails among a town’s population, they will have the best library they can reasonably afford.
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