I belatedly realized that last week was National Library Week after my Urbana sister made passing reference to family photographs taken for the UDC almost six decades ago.
Using the county library’s link to the archives, I revisited the frontpage story that appeared, coincidentally enough, on April 13, 1959. Because librarian Roberta Shand considered us “among the library’s most regular patrons,” we posed for those long-ago pictures to celebrate the second annual National Library Week.
A caption described us girls as “avid readers,” and another photo showed the whole family – even my father – on the library steps “leaving after the weekly Saturday visit.”
The library was the one on Market Street that served for 64 years as Champaign County’s public repository for reading materials. When the entire collection was moved to its current Scioto Street location, I loved the roomy space and modern conveniences. However, the quaint little building just a block from the Square will forever remain “my” library. I am a nook-and-cranny kind of gal, and the Morhlite building was full of them.
I heard about the library from my mother long before I ever entered it. She had no intention of herding four rowdy toddlers into that quiet setting but eventually allowed one of us to accompany her each week.
I remember feeling engulfed in an incredible sea of books. Just a couple of vertical shelves held picture books, but the mere impression of so many wonderful story books all in one place remains with me still.
I did homework there on glass-covered tables, read books for the Summer Reading Program, and used the card catalogue. Later, I worked weekends and summers checking out books and reading shelves for $1.00 an hour.
Almost 160 years before Champaign County’s very first library in 1890, Ben Franklin began a subscription library in Philadelphia; and Thomas Jefferson’s huge, personal collection provided a basis for the rebuilt Library of Congress. Andrew Carnegie, a kind of philanthropic Johnny Appleseed, “planted” over 1700 libraries in 48 states early in the twentieth century.
To some people, library architecture is important. The sheer dimensions of the Library of Congress totally impressed me when I toured the structure years ago. My Urbana sister was similarly moved by the grand style of the New York Public Library during a recent visit to the Big Apple.
To others, library systems are vital. Librarians must provide organized accessibility to an organized collection – readers want what they want when they want it. My West Virginia sister is a regular reader but also a retired librarian who talks systems and classification. In fact, the other day at Costco a fellow customer asked her why she was straightening the book display.
With no central library at Concord School in the 1950’s, every classroom contained a small book collection along with each year’s Reading Circle books. In 1962 Tom Rogers supervised Graham High School’s library expansion when the space doubled in size. Years later, Diana Schlater oversaw a similar move into a beautifully-updated space equipped with modern technology.
Still, it is difficult for public libraries to provide accessibility to all who wish to read. Into that need the bookmobile was born.
The concept intrigued me in 1960 when the bookmobile began making stops throughout the county. Unfortunately, Champaign County lost those services in 2010 during state funding cuts.
However, bookmobile-type services are available all over the globe. Elephants, burros, and camels deliver reading materials to remote locations, as do biblio-buses and book bikes. Some people borrow their reading materials from floating libraries and book boats. I saw pictures of a large pop-up library on a beach and books in net baskets dangling from trees in a dense forest.
Tiny libraries have become big business. A type of free book exchange increasing in popularity with more than 25,000 such “structures” throughout the world, the Free Little Library movement urges people to construct small containers, to fill them with donated books, and to encourage everyone to borrow and read, read, read.
My final thought in honor of National Library Week is that there may be as many libraries as there are readers. For my Tennessee sister, her library is the small local building she visits almost every week – and her Kindle collection of free books. My Oxford sister treasures her set of the complete works of Laura Ingalls Wilder and owns all the Harry Potter books.
Others consider libraries as Henry Ward Beecher did: “not a luxury but a necessity of life,” while Jorge Luis Borges imagined that “paradise will be a kind of library.”
Libraries have always influenced my family. My mother’s childhood library consisted of a few volumes in a cupboard with a glass door, books she read over and over during the Depression years. On River Road we had a collection of Little Golden Books in the toy cupboard and a row of books on the mantel. My mother’s Reader’s Digest Condensed Books dominated the built-in bookshelves on Ford Road, although my father and brother managed to find room for their tractor books.
My personal library includes several Kindle books and the volumes filling every drawer of a small bureau not far from my recliner. And most certainly, the bags of large-print books my Urbana sister regularly delivered to my mother when weekly library visits became impossible – well, they were libraries of necessity and paradise…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.