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A Cornucopia of Thanks for Libraries

November 4, 2015

 

From an Altitude of Gratitude,

 

(Part 1) A Cornucopia of Thanks for Libraries

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

NOTE: During this season of Thanksgiving, as in 2014, my Wordwalk blog will feature a series of four blog posts focusing on more items in my cornucopia of thanks. Join me at this altitude of gratitude and notice your own blessings during this month of November.

 

Thanks to a $12,500 grant from Andrew Carnegie, the small Hoosier town of Clinton placed the cornerstone of the Clinton Public Library in October of 1909. On November 22, 1911, the Clinton (Indiana) Public Library opened its doors to readers for the first time. On that first day, 104 years ago, five hundred books were checked out. In 1947, the year my older sister was born, the library expanded its children’s section. In 1953, three years after I came into the reading world, a meeting room was added to the library at 313 South Fourth Street in Clinton.

 

Thanks to my Uncle Pete’s driving each weekday the seven miles from Blanford to Clinton to go to Comba’s Bakery for fresh, crusty Italian bread which my uncle sold at Lanzone’s Grocery Store in Blanford, my cousin Carole and I had a regular ride to the Clinton Public Library almost every day of the summer. Each of us checked out the maximum of five books. Selecting the new books to read was so much fun! The gray- and white-haired librarians (Mrs. Munsen and Mrs. Richards or Richardson) were always so nice and helpful to us. Although I have not lived in Vermillion County for over 25 years, I easily remember my library number from those childhood years–JR 1109. Of course, the library’s summer reading program was an important part of our summer.

 

In my mind’s eye, I can clearly picture the layout of the children’s section in the lower level of the library. I distinctly recall the location of the shelves where the Nancy Drew books stood with spines ready to be pulled from a temporary resting place. The fragrance of the fiction and nonfiction books, the magic of the myriad of books, the rare gift of a free bookmark, made the library a spellbinding place for me. Ever since those early visits to the library in the 1950s, libraries have had me in their spell. The quiet, neat, and friendly atmosphere of a library has always seemed like a second home to me–no matter where I have lived.

 

At Jacksonville Grade School (where I went to school from grades one through five and from where my mother and her siblings, as well as my sister were graduated) was a meager, but special library. The books at this rural school’s library were from the Clinton Public Library and changed periodically to give the township students a variety of reading material. These awesome books were lined up on a table in the back of the school’s auditorium. What a treat to go upstairs to the auditorium and choose a book to take home to read!

 

Eventually, as the reading years rolled by, I, as a high school student, enjoyed the privilege of perusing the large collection on the upper floor of the Clinton Public Library. With the Dewey Decimal System spinning in my head, I fondly recall all the stacks and shelves of books, as well as a wonderful collection of magazines and journals. Since Clinton High School was catty-corner from the library block, I frequently went to the library to wait for one of my parents to pick me up after I had stayed at school late. When my mother went to town to get her hair fixed once a week, I went to the library to explore, read, and/or do homework. When my dad had to go to town for something, I often went to the library while he did his errands.

 

Due to diminishing vision, I could not read as many books as I would have liked; but I was engrossed by this land of books. At Clinton High School, I was honored that librarian Miss (Florence) Salaroglio asked me to be a student librarian. My first volunteer job in a library led to my attending a week-long convention for student librarians at Purdue University, during the summer before my senior year. The book which we were asked to read before traveling to Lafayette, Indiana, and then discuss at the conference was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

 

In 1968, I began to explore a much larger library–six floors of stacks–at Indiana State University. By the time I worked on my master’s degree, the university had a new, modern library where I delved further into research.

 

In 1980, I learned about a different type of library whose services I could fully utilize. By way of the cooperating library in Indianapolis, I received audio and braille books and magazines from the National Library Service, Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Suddenly, I was able to read all the books that my diminishing vision had not allowed me to read. Cassette books, recorded on four tracks and at a slower speed, came through the mail directly to me in plastic containers. By flipping over a pre-addressed index card on the plastic container, I could easily mail back the borrowed audio book (unabridged) to the library in Indianapolis. Thirty-five years later, I still thoroughly delight in receiving the special plastic containers from the Talking Book and Braille Library of the National Library Service, here in Milwaukee. The one difference is that the great majority of books I receive from the regional library now are on a special digital cartridge. Instead of receiving magazines on flexible discs or cassette, recorded magazines are also available on the digital cartridges. Additionally, using my computer, I can download the recorded books on a personal cartridge. Although my townhouse still has nine bookcases and the top of a half-wall full of both print and braille books and magazines, I am enormously thankful for these audio books and magazines from the National Library Service (NLS). For many years of the past 35, I have kept notes on the books which I have read. In 2013, one of the years after my retirement from teaching, I read the most books in one year–eighty-four.

 

Even my guide dogs have loved libraries! While I was on the campus of Western Michigan University to earn a second master’s degree from 1990 to 1991, my first Leader Dog Keller and I had to learn the route to the campus library where we often met a sighted reader who assisted me with research. During my teaching years at Milwaukee Area Technical College, my Leader Dog Heather and then Zoe quickly learned the command “Find the library.” Hearing this command in the east hallway of the Main Building’s third floor, Heather or Zoe took me directly to the college library’s entrance door and then to other strategic points in the library. They, too, seemed to relish the atmosphere of a library. Sharing my enthusiasm about libraries and books was a highlight of my years of teaching, with one of my three guide dogs at my side.

 

During this season of Thanksgiving, I give a cornucopia of thanks to all the libraries and their librarians and books that have enriched and enhanced my life. From my altitude of gratitude, libraries hold an extraordinary place on life’s map.

 

POST-SCRIPT: Please leave a comment which shares the author and title of a book (or books) which you have enjoyed reading recently. My favorite read of this autumn is studying Wisconsin: The Life of Increase Lapham–Early Chronicler of Plants, Rocks, Rivers, Mounds, and All Things Wisconsin–written by Martha Bergland and Paul G. Hayes (copyright 2014, Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 410 pages, DBW 09406).

 

Happy reading! Happy November!

Alice and Zoe

 

November 4, 2015, Wednesday

 

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8 Comments
  1. Carole permalink

    Yes, those childhood years visiting the Clinton Public Library were very pleasant and memorable for me, as well. As years passed, the library was a perfect meeting place for clubs and organizations and also a great resource for my classroom. It became even more enjoyable as it was later transformed into a more beautiful and modern facility, which continues to be a great asset to the community.
    Thanks, Alice, for capturing more great memories and sharing the importance of libraries in your life.

    • Carole–Thanks for your comments. On the website of the Clinton Public Library, I also learned that expansions of the library took place in 1993-1994, and in 2001. Take care–Alice and Zoe

  2. Alice, when I was a teen-ager, I enjoyed reading Nancy Drew books with my CCTV, but for some reason, our public library didn’t carry them. I often went with my mother to a local bookstore to buy them, and like you, I loved the smell of the paper in the books. I wrote a poem about this years ago, and maybe I’ll put it on my blog sometime.

  3. Alice. I could picture you leaving the library with an arm full of books, and a smile on your face the size of Clinton. grin Thanks for another stroll through your past. dp

  4. Fran Rayce permalink

    Hi Alice, I too loved the Clinton Public Library and that wonderful children’s department with Mrs. Bertha Richardson. She was a very soft spoken and kind woman. Her elderly mother lived next door to us in Universal. Mrs. Richardson came each evening from her home on Hazel Bluff and stayed with her mother for the night because of her mother’s advanced age and failing health.That dear lady would bring a box of books to my brothers and I each week during the busiest farm seasons when dad had less time to take us the five miles to town and the library. What service! Our own traveling library! We didn’t need a bookmobile.
    Although I enjoyed the Nancy Drew series I also was fond of the orange Landmark biographies and probably read them all. Later as a high school student I would often go to the library after school activities and study or read until dad could come in to town to pick me up. What a wonderful gift it was and is to the folks in the Clinton area and you captured its essence perfectly.
    Thank you for this walk down the memory lane of books.
    Fran

    PS I have just finished reading a book called The Road to Character by David Brooks. He presents two ideas on the types of character one can hope to achieve and then has nine vignettes of historical figures that he feels exemplify parts of those characteristics. He ends with some observations of society today and the reflections and actions one needs engage in to achieve character growth. I found it very thought provoking and inspirational.

    • Fran–Thank you so much for your lovely comments! I especially appreciate your solving the dilemna about Mrs. Richardson’s surname. I just had a feeling that you might remember this librarian, but never dreamed that you would have such a close connection. I can picture Mrs. Richardson clearly in my mind. Take care! Always glad to have your wonderful additions to my blog–Alice

  5. A cornucopia of thanks to you, Alice, for sharing these wonderful memories of libraries which I also enjoyed. Thinking about the Clinton Public Library reminded me of the photo from April, 1923, taken in front of the library. A group of 30 or more people wearing their Sunday best had just been sworn in as citizens of the USA. Among those new citizens dressed in a nice-looking black coat and hat was our maternal grandmother. At that moment Grandma Store (as we affectionately called her) could not have imagined how much the building behind her would mean to her grandchildren! I’m so thankful that she and our other three grandparents immigrated to this country from Italy and became US citizens. We are the beneficiaries of their wise decision.
    Love, Mary

    • Mary–One memory brings forth another. I have no recollection of the photo which you mentioned in your nice comment. Since I do not believe I have a copy of this photo, I would like to have a copy. How appropriate that in one of the more recent expansions of the Clinton Public Library a genealogy room was added! I wonder if the new citizens took the citizenship test at the library. Good night! AZ

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