WBFO Listener Commentaries
10:18 am
Tue August 4, 2009

Commentary: A Retired Teachers Shares Her Life-Long Love of Libraries

Buffalo, NY – When I was a child, the last day of school meant endless hours outdoors for many of my friends. They looked forward to long afternoons playing baseball, going to the swimming pool or exploring the hills and woods around our houses. But not me. Summer meant hours in the B. F. Jones Memorial Library.

There wasn't much air conditioning in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania in the late 50's and early 60's. But the library was a haven of coolness on hot, humid afternoons.

The B.F. Jones Memorial Library was a classy robber baron equivalent of "My parents went to the beach and all I got was this tee shirt." While my grandfathers were working in the Jones and Laughlin Steel MIll for low wages, the Jones and the Laughlins built lovely granite public libraries for the use of the families of their underpaid workers.

The library was the most beautiful edifice in town. A granite facade, tall windows, and an imposing set of steps to the heavy brass front doors made all of us whisper when we entered the building. Once in the door, we were greeted by a larger than life sized bronze statue of B.F. Jones sitting on a chair staring down at us. It always made me look at my hands to see if they were clean enough to enter this space.

Inside, there were walls of books, smooth oak furniture, leaded glass windows, stained glass windows, private corners for reading and a seriously scary basement when the bathroom was located.

But best of all, it was free. I could take out as many books as I could carry. I could collect a pile of books, sit in one of the comfy oak chairs, and rest my arms on the polished oak table. Or if it were a really hot day, I could sit on the slate floor with my back against the wall under the tall windows. On special occasions, the children's librarian would open up a cozy room with stained glass windows. All around the room were depictions of famous children's tales in what I now recognize as a 1920's vision of the Middle Ages. The room backed up to a hill, so while the glass was never luminous, it did have the darkened beauty of an old book.

And so from the time I learned to read, the library was my summer home. I spent the summers with Sue Barton's adventures, N.C. Wyeth's illustrations of Robin Hood and Treasure Island, the lives of famous Americans, and the whole rainbow of fairy tale books, from Red, to Violet.

I still love the library. We're blessed in Western New York with an outstanding collection of beautiful and useful buildings. My local library in Clarence is especially beautiful and the librarians and volunteers always make the visit a pleasure. In her Venice mysteries, Donna Leon often has her detective, Commissario Brunetti, despair over the fact that the Italians have nothing like the free library system in the United States.

That term, "free," is critical here. For a little girl in a mill town, books were a luxury. We couldn't afford lots of books, but I didn't need them, because I already had them -- a whole library full of them. In today's economy where people feel strapped, the library is still a source of wealth that belongs to all of us.

In order to keep this institution an important part of our lives, I have a private project and I hope you'll adopt it yourself. Every time I take a book out of the library, I marvel at the $10, $20 or $30 I've saved by signing out a book from the library instead of buying it myself. So, because I have disposable income, I donate $1 to the local library for each book I sign out. I certainly wouldn't expect a mother loaded down with a dozen picture books, do the same. However, those of us with a few extra dollars in our pockets could help. Our small donations could provide our local libraries with a little wiggle room. The next time you sign out a book or a DVD or a CD, hand over a dollar to the person who checks you out and say, "This is a little donation to the library."

Whenever I give a dollar or two, it makes me feel good. It's the least I can do to pay back a distinctly American institution that served me so well as a child.

Listener-Commentor Mildred Blaisdell is a retired school teacher.

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