In the Library

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From the children’s collection, “Library Lion ” by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.  Published in 2006, it was a New York Times bestseller.  Everyone knows that you must be quiet and there is no running in a library.  But what will happen when a lion has the audacity to enter Mrs. Merriweather’s  library.  When her assistant, Mr. McBee came running down the hall, Mrs. Merriweather, called, “No running.”  “But there is a lion,” said Mr. McBee, “in the library.”  But he wasn’t “breaking any rules” so Mrs. Merriweather said,  “Then leave him be.”

Can you picture Mr. McBee and Mrs. Merriweather.  He is wearing plaid pants, a yellow suit coat, poka dot bow tie, close cropped hair and large glasses.  She is wearing a blue-gray frock, with lots of buttons and a belt, sensible shoes, a bun hairdo and oval glasses that she wears on the end of her nose.

After exploring the card catalog and stacks, the lion settles down for story hour.  But when the story hour ends, the lion roars, raahhhrrrr!  Corrected, he promises not to roar and Mrs. Merriweather says he can return tomorrow.  The lion begins to do all kinds of library chores, dusting encyclopedias, licking envelopes with overdue notices, helping children get books.  He always laid down with the children for story hour.

 

One day Mrs. Merriweather “stretches a little far for a book on the top shelf.  She falls.  The lion runs down the hall and roars at Mr.McBee.  McBee gasped, “Your breaking the rules.”  The lion knew what that meant and left the library.  McBee finds Mrs. Merriweather on the floor and calls the doctor.

 

Days pass. The lion does not return.  He was missed.  McBee decides to search the neighborhood; he eventually finds the lion and brings him back to the library.  Mrs. Merriweather runs to greet him.  “No running” Mr. McBee says. Everyone learns a lesson.   “But sometimes there was good reason to break the rules. Even in the library.”

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Lions in front of the New York Public Library

I was in early elementary school when my father first took me to the Dorrance (Campbell soup family) street library in Bristol.  It was an old wood frame building; the librarian resembled Mrs. Merriweather, but had gray hair.  I was soon checking out books myself.  One strong image is finding that there was more than one “Wizard of Oz” book.  And the library’s copies were beautifully illustrated, first editions I believe.   I worked my way through the Hardy Boys, then Tom Swift, and other “boys” series.  I even tried a few Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins books.

I also remember the librarian guiding me in late elementary to a new area labeled Junior classics.  There were Jules Verne books, “Robinson Crusoe,” “The Swiss Family Robinson,” “Huckleberry Finn,”  and “Tom Sawyer,”‘ possible some Dickens.  New worlds to explore.

The old Bristol Free Library was replaced by the Grundy Library on Radcliffe Street in the early 1960s.

Privately funded, it is probably one of the best libraries in the County.  I used it when it first opened, and when I first started teaching, off and on since then.  They had a great selection of LPs (many of historic interest) that I would check out for classroom use.  For years I borrowed a 20 plus set of blue bound,  facsimile books in early new world history to teach about primary sources (some were in Latin or languages other than English languages).  In the 1980s the librarian contacted me.  Since I wás the only one who used the books, would I like them. They are now part of the HGP collection. I’m sure they are checked out regularly.

My High School library at Holy Ghost Prep was a disappointment.  Father Curtin, later Brother Dominic served as librarian. Someone was buying easy to read series– biographies, books about saints or books about states.  I checked out a lot of books but also bought many paperbacks because I knew the school library offerings were not great or challenging reading.  In the summer of my sophomore year I took an American literature course at Neshaminy HS.  In my senior year, Father Dave Marshall taught a good literature course.  I began to read Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Twain, and other American authors.

I loved the Bapst Library at Boston College Library.

Although required reading books were usually purchased, library  books were used for research papers.  The subject of my first paper was Hemingway.  I read every book of criticism and biography in Bapst, even doctoral dissertations.  I then traveled to Boston University to supplement BC offerings.  No question I was a library person, a book person.  Bapst with its antique furnishings, low lights, long tables was also my favorite study venue. Footnote: after reading so much Hemingway criticism, I felt everything had been written.  Fortunately my professor, John McCarthy, helped me develop a topic —  “Huckleberry Finn and the Nick Adams stories.”  A well-known Hemingway critic stole the idea a year or so later?

When we moved to Yardley, the “Old Library on Lake Alton” became a special place.

It had been started as a private subscription library in the mid 1800s.  By the 1970s it was part of the County system.  It was small.  Books were two deep on the shelves.  But it was always an exciting place to visit.  They were purchasing new titles but also had a lot of older volumes — sometimes dusty.  The librarians were pretty typical.  But there was nothing better than walking to the library on a snowy evening for a good winter read.  When the County built a new local library in Lower Makefield township, the “Old Library” became the home of the Yardley Historical Association.  For many years I was active with the Association and presented quite a few slide programs on Yardley history.  It’s probably one of the most painted and photographed buildings in Bucks County.

In 1974 I was hired by Headmaster Francis Hanley as librarian at Holy Ghost Prep.  A Spiritan brother, Dominic Reardon, was the librarian. The library had been moved from a room on the third floor in my student days to the former first floor gym.  It was a good size room, nicely furnished but most of the books were not labeled with clear call numbers, there were few, if any, new purchases.  Donations were accepted from other libraries, even donated card catalog cards.  I disposed of thousands.    I don’t think many books were checked out.  The library pretty much served as a study hall for classes. (Ironically, since I’ve retired some faculty tell me the library is again a silent study hall.)

Hanley wanted me to run a more open library.  Let in the lion. Sometimes it roared.   I began taking courses for a MA degree in educational media.  Libraries were becoming labeled media centers.  I established a music center (problematic as kids would talk loud with earphones); a room for AV equipment and the software (film strips, tapes, slide programs) was set up for faculty. I established a relationship with the BCIU to borrow 16 mm films.  Sometimes I would feature a film  in the library.  I also managed several other small rooms — one as an audio lab, a darkroom and eventually a video room for taping.

I served as HGP’s librarian (always taught 3 courses, so it was not full time) for several years but was appointed Assistant Headmaster in the late 1970s.  For several years the library was managed by volunteer mothers until we hired a librarian, Jan Showler.  I went on to serve as Assistant Headmaster for over ten years but was destined to return to the library.

In 1989-90 I took a sabbatical to research and write my dissertation for an Ed.D program in educational leadership. When I returned I was offered the position of librarian. Since I was writing my dissertation (another story),  it was a good fit.  Several years later the HGP library moved to the first floor of a new building, Founder’s Hall.  Arlene Buettler was hired as a part-time assistant and I would continue to teach 2, sometimes 3 classes.

The new Holy Ghost Prep library was an extremely pleasant environment.  I was teaching several courses at LaSalle and Holy Family in the evenings and I continued to teach several courses at HGP.  What I enjoyed most was exposing students to a new book, a new idea, a new question.

For me a library has always been a special place, a space to think, to read, to write, to explore new worlds. There were rules but also reasons to break the rules.  It was good to let the lion into the library.    I would finish my education career as a librarian and part time classroom teacher.

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New worlds, new ideas, even a bit of magic — all found in libraries.  You just need to look, listen, and read.                                              “Old Library on Lake Afton” Yardley.

 

 

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