Over the past three years, as I have worked on the committee to build an addition to our town’s library, two things have occurred to me. The first and most obvious one is the importance of libraries, big and small. Maine is very lucky in that most towns, no matter how tiny, have a library. We are doubly lucky that Maine has a terrific interlibrary loan system so that the broader world of books, stories, and ideas is open to the entire library system, regardless of how small a particular library might be. Need I add that libraries are open to all, regardless of status and income? Not really, I know, but I always like to make that plug.
The second thing I have realized is that so many people have library stories, which usually revolve around the importance of libraries in their lives. Often times, the stories also feature some unusual aspect of a library, thus illustrating the ingenuity of towns and librarians and the people who support them.
For sometime now, I’ve been wanting to write a series of posts that feature library stories, and yesterday, on Facebook, I read a library story that made me think now was the time to begin this project.
Shari and Bill Burke, a couple I know, recently moved from Brunswick, Maine, to Ballinrobe, Ireland. Ballinrobe is in County Mayo in the west of Ireland, and it is a small town with a population circa 3,682.
Both Shari and Bill are avid readers, and it didn’t take them long to get a library card from their local library, which is in a converted church complete with a stained-glass window. This is Shari’s library story, which she generously agreed to share on my blog. Her husband Bill took the pictures, which he, in turn, generously agreed to share. In fact, you might say this whole story is one of generosity, which, along with decency, is too often underrated.
Shari wrote, “After lunch this afternoon we headed out with a backpack of books to return to the library and Bill’s jump drive with a document to print. We walked in the bright sunshine to the library, where Bill took a seat at a computer and I went to the desk to return the books. Mary, the librarian, commented on how beautiful the weather has been…. Somehow we ended up talking about a bunch of other stuff and she told me she’s lived in Ballinrobe for 35 years and working at the library for over 20. She said that it used to be located in a tiny thatched building on Cornmarket—I cannot imagine having a library in the building she means—it really is small. They moved into their current location about 17 years ago, all because of a library patron named Dorothy, who had a dog friend named Coco.
“Dorothy was ‘Church of Ireland’ and she was increasingly disturbed by the sorry state of the unused church. She was also a book lover and frequent visitor to the library. One day she approached Mary and asked if the county council might be able to use the old church building as a library. Mary said to talk to them about it. Dorothy did and in the end, Church of Ireland leased it to the Mayo County Council for 1 cent. It needed some restoration work, not least on the stained glass window, which was sent to Dublin piece by piece and cleaned at a cost of 70,000 pounds (this was just before the Euro, I guess).
“Dorothy, the woman that set the move in motion, continued to use the library a lot. She always came in with Coco and Coco was the only dog allowed in the library. Once, when Mary was away on holiday, her sub told Dorothy that the dog was not allowed in the library and Coco had to be tied up outside. Dorothy was not happy and I’m guessing that Coco wasn’t, either! When Mary returned, she said, ‘Don’t ever do that again! Do you know whose dog that is?’ Coco was never banished again!
“When it became difficult for Dorothy to get into town, Mary would pick her up on her lunch hour and bring Dorothy to town to do her shopping and pick up her library books. When Dorothy was unable to get to the library, Mary brought her books to her. Dorothy was found passed away in her bed with an open library book in her hand and Coco at the end of her bed. Coco died two days later.”
There’s really nothing I can add to this lovely story, so I won’t. Again, many thanks, Shari, for agreeing to share your piece, and Bill, for the pictures.