In the Library


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.”


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.


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.




Cinema, film, “the movies”


Several nights ago, Diane and I watched “The Young Sherlock Holmes.”  We immediately saw traces of Harry Potter — boarding school, precocious kid, male and female sidekicks, a bad teacher, magic and mystery.  It’s a 1985 movie, pre-Harry, but most reviewers don’t believe that Rowling borrowed; just archetypal elements.  There are scenes of an Egyptian death cult obviously owing a debt to Indiana Jones. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” came out in 1981 and Steven Spielberg was an advisor to “Young Sherlock.” Film history can be interesting.

“Young Sherlock” is one of about 500 DVDs I have been bringing upstairs from the many boxes I brought home from Holy Ghost Prep and stored in the basement.  My collection developed when I committed to watching the AFIs (American Film Institute) best 100 American films.  In about two years I watched all of them except for the Jazz Singer which wasn’t available on VHS or DVD.  Anyone who reviews the list may want to do some additions and subtractions (actually I think the AFI has updated the list) but they are all good films worth watching more than once. As I worked my way through the list, I decided to teach a film course at HGP.  So I burned most of the films on the list — the beginnings of my DVD collection.

My serious interest in cinema (as an art form) began while I was a student at Boston College.  I was not alone.   The 1960s witnessed Americans interest in film,  foreign films, art theatres and film schools in CA and NYC.   I regularly went to films at the Brattle (one of Boston’s art theatres — Bergman, Fillini, Antonioni.  You didn’t need to hear the Swedish, French, or Italian to know these weren’t American, Hollywood movies.


At the end of my Freshman year, driving home with my father,  I shared an idea that I might leave BC and apply to NYU.  “Why” my father asked, “your already in a college.”  He didn’t get the idea of majoring in film making.  Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg and many others from my generation were the first to attend college to learn film making. But I returned to BC and was satisfied to take several courses in film offered by the English Department (my major).


The instructor was Mannie Grossman, a new young addition to the department who was interested in film.  The courses offered were history and critique not production.  Mannie and I became good friends (both recently married), went out to dinner and the movies. A standing joke between us was who read (prepared more for class).  The courses introduced me to early cinema — French, German and Russian films.  I carried my interest into other courses, writing screenplays, reviewing Shakespearean films, comparing novels to filmed versions.  Most professors were quite open to these alternatives to traditional English papers. Books about film history, film as art, directors, genres flooded the market.  Few existed before the 1960s.

Minor production experience came outside of class.  At BC student activity funds became available to make films.  I applied and got money to shoot a documentary film  about the Harcourt Bindery  — a shop where I worked with machinery and employees straight out of the 19th century.  My film was shot with super 8mm; sound was on a separate reel to reel tape that had to be synced when shown.  There was only one public showing during a campus wide film festival.  But it’s basically impossible to blow up Super 8 to a theatre size.  Despite that, the film was well recieved (probably due to subject matter) and I thought I may have gotten an “A” in my seventeenth century prose course because the professor liked the film.

About 2 years ago, I sent “The Bindery” to a company to have it digitized.  Scan Digital lost the film.  I was shocked.  It’s worth mentioning, the retired teacher who bought Harcourt Bindery from my boss, Fred Young, made two documentary films with National Endowment money.  They are much more sophisticated than mine. But loss of “The Bindery” was unfortunate.

In Boston and the years right out of college, I continued to shoot film, instead of taking 35 mm photographs.  Most of it was just raw footage.  I few times I tried to tell a story.  When Diane and I were in the Peace Corps, I asked for funding and was given money to rent equipment and document our training program. PC made several copies.  Scan Digital didn’t lose this one and so I have a DVD but haven’t watched it yet.  Some time soon I need to go through my Super 8 footage and get more converted.

In the 1970s, I put down my movie camera (I’d bought a Bolieu) and started taking 35 mm photographs.  First with my father’s Argus; then with Canons purchased by HGP, finally with my own Nikon equipment.  For about 10 years I sent slides to stock companies and did a few yearbooks and weddings.  I still get an ocassional royalty check from images stock companies accepted over 40 years ago.  Unfortunately I stopped when administration and school work took up more of my time. Film was watching movies.

I never got very involved with a VHS camera.  I used one in class and gave students film making assignments, but I only brought the camera home one Christmas.  While Diane cooked dinner, Jenny and I made a PBS style home show.  I probably should get that on a DVD and also transfer several 16 mm films that Diane’s father made. One is of a car trip out west he made with a friend in the 1930s; another are clips of Diane growing up. More retirement projects.


I taught the film course at HGP for about 8 years.  The textbook by John Belton was used in many college classes was the basis of my course title,  “American Cinema/American Culture.”  For  the first month, we reviewed the early history of film, Edison, through “Birth of a Nation.”  Most students had never seen a silent film nor a black and white film.  On the first day of class I gave them a list of about 20 important American films.  Most had seen one or two — i.e. “The Godfather,” maybe “The Graduate.”


imageAfter Chaplin’s “The Kid'” we turned to comedy as a genre.  “Some Like it Hot” was always a big hit.  To my surprise “Doctor Strangelove” and “Mash” would get mixed reviews.  I enjoyed comparing Astaire-Rogers in “Swing Time” with “West Side Story” and Travalta in “Saturday Night Fever.” Students were also required to watch some films at home, keep a journal and write some formal reviews. For instance, “Tootsie” might be assigned after “Some Like it Hot.”


Although I changed films annually there were other regulars including “Mr Smith Goes to Washington,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Fargo,” and of course “Casablanca.”  One year I had time for one last film.  “Milk” was getting a lot of press.  Quiet and hesitant in the beginning, particularly with the open homosexual scenes, almost every kid in the class was cheering for Harvey Milk by the end of the film.  I kept “Milk” on the list as the last film shown in the course.  It was a fun course to teach and I never minded rewatching classic films.

Recently I’ve been watching quite a few movies.  That term “movies,” by the way,  came about because the early film makers from NYC and NJ “moved around a lot when they moved to Hollywood.  Locals took to calling them “the movies.”  It wasn’t complimentary.  Just a bit of trivia from the film course.

I currently watch streaming on Amazon and our Comcast account.  Unfortunately there is an awful lot of junk.   Streaming Turner Classics  usually offers an older film that is new to me or some classic favorite. I watch a lot of PBS streaming — the American Experience and Masterpiece.  Diane borrows CDs from the Library.  Usually I can buy into her choices which run heavy into series like “Foyle’s War'” or “Call the Midwives.”  We get one Nexflix at a time — trying to see some current hits.  And every few weeks we go to the County Theatre in Doylestown or the Ritz in Society Hill — versions of the old art cinemas.  And now I have my 500 DVDS.

Maybe I need to find a pattern or purpose in my watching or maybe watching a good film enough.  Tonight I’m going to watch “Mr.Holmes.”  I just finished the book.  Holmes has retired, is raising bees, trying to understand life and old age.  Unfortunately I can’t have popcorn anymore.