I took these pictures on Monday, a sunny day right before the election, and today, another gray day, seemed like a good time to post them. In Maine, the bullies might have gained the upper hand, but wonderful progress has been made on the library’s addition. You can actually get a sense now of just how much space we will have when the addition is complete.
As I’ve mentioned before, in my fanciful imagination I can hear Bailey going “A-h-h-h-h” as the library expands from its tight quarters to its more spacious ones.
A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever.
From the time I was a young child, libraries have been an important part of my life. In North Vassalboro, where I grew up, there was a tiny library made from a converted cottage that had been hauled by horses across an icy China Lake. My family regularly went to this library. Once a week, we also went to the Waterville Public Library, a bigger library with a much larger and more enticing selection of books. So I guess you could say we were fools for libraries, and this perhaps explains why I so enjoy seeing other libraries when I travel.
On my recent trip to New York City, Dee and I visited two libraries in the New York Public Library system—“the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building,” and the much smaller Hudson Park Library. The contrast between these two libraries couldn’t be greater, but both have their appeal and place.
The Schwarzman Building—the one with the lions—is nothing less than a temple devoted to books and words and learning. There are pillars and marble and frescos and chandeliers and statues, and as I tiptoed through the hallowed halls, I looked up, down, and around until my neck began to hurt. I’m sure my mouth was agape as I took in the splendors of this magnificent library. I felt like a country bumpkin in the big city. Is there a more splendid library in this country? I can’t imagine it, but I would certainly be interested in finding out if there is one.
At the Schwarzman Building, we saw two exhibits: Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind and Sublime: The Prints of J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Moran. Over Here illustrated how posters, songs, books, and even movies, a new technology at the time, were used as propaganda to encourage the American public to support WWI. And apparently the public did need to be persuaded. On one side was the progressive activist Jane Addams, who maintained that war “affords no solution for vexed international problems.” On the other side was Theodore Roosevelt, who decried “flabby pacifism” and urged America to join the fight. We know who won that argument.
From a historic point of view, Sublime was interesting, but there is no way around it—the prints lacked snap. Both Turner and Moran had a vision of nature that hardly resembles nature at all. With only a few exceptions, the prints were stiff and lifeless yet over the top at the same time. A difficult combination to achieve, but somehow they managed. I’m not sorry I saw the exhibit—Turner’s vivid paintings are completely different from his prints, and I was fascinated by the contrast. Before this exhibit, I had never heard of Thomas Moran, and it is always good to learn about an artist, even if his work doesn’t exactly speak to you.
The next day we visited the Hudson Park Library, to see paintings by Elliot Gilbert. Where the Schwarzman Building is grand and imposing, the Hudson Park Library is small and humble. The Hudson Park Library is tucked on a tree-lined street in Greenwich Village. The reading room was small but filled with various people reading and using the computers. It felt cozy and homey and well loved, a community center for Greenwich Village, and while I admired the grander Schwarzman Building, I felt at home in the Hudson Park Library. In fact, given enough money, I could even see myself living in one of those brick homes next to the library, where I would be close to shops and good Chinese restaurants and cinemas that play foreign film such as the terrific Diplomacy, which Dee and I saw after going to the library.
Unfortunately, Gilbert’s paintings were shown in a little room where people where studying and reading, and we weren’t able to get a good look at the paintings. But that’s all right. It was still fun visiting the library and walking through Greenwich village, which is much more relaxed than other parts of New York City.
A final note: The quotation at the beginning of this piece appropriately comes from a fortune cookie I had the first night in New York. What a fun way to start a trip that was centered on libraries!
On Saturday, I’ll be going to New York City to visit Dee. Just visiting with her is reason enough to go, but there are so many wonderful things to do in New York City, and some of them are even free or don’t cost much at all.
One prime example is the New York Public Library, which has “88 neighborhood branches and four scholarly research centers.” (Surprise, surprise that I would think of visiting a library.) At the Schwarzman building—often considered the main branch, with those famous lions guarding the entrance—there are two exhibitions that I’m interested in.
The first is Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind. This description from the New York Public Library’s website explains it best: “Drawing from collections across The New York Public Library, Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind explores the manner in which public relations, propaganda, and mass media in its many forms were used to shape and control public opinion about the war while also noting social and political issues that continue to resonate, such as freedom of speech and the press, xenophobia, and domestic espionage. ”
I must admit I don’t know much about World War I. For me, World War II, Hitler, the death camps, and the atomic bomb overshadow that earlier war, and it will be interesting to see how the mass media functioned as a propaganda device in the early 1900s. (I certainly will never forget how the media—even the excellent New York Times—backed Bush and the war in Iraq.)
The second exhibit—Sublime: The Prints of J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Moran—will be a little lighter. As with World War I, I don’t know that much about Turner except that he was a British painter in the 1800s and painted in an impressionistic style before Monet and Renoir made it popular. (I also know that Timothy Spall will be portraying him in the upcoming Mike Leigh bio-pic.) I know absolutely nothing about Thomas Moran. According to the blurb on the library’s website, Moran was an American painter who was greatly influenced by Turner’s work.
After seeing both this exhibits, I should know much more about WWI and the works of Turner and Moran than I do now. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s always good to learn new things.
At the Hudson Park Library, there is an exhibition called Here and There: An Exhibit of Paintings by Elliot Gilbert. So as not to ruin my perfect record of ignorance as expressed in this post, I also have to confess that I am completely unacquainted with the works of Gilbert, who is a landscape artist and an illustrator of children’s books.
Dee and I will also tuck in a movie or two and get Chinese food from a place just down the street from her apartment. We’ve talked about getting donuts from the fabulous Doughnut Plant. (I can taste a donut right now.) And perhaps slide in a trip to the Strand bookstore. Then there are cannolis from that Italian shop not far from where Dee lives.
Always so much to do and see and eat in New York City.
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.
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