Monday, April 11, 2011

Library Memories

Recently I confided to a friend that I was stumped for a topic for my next blog. She came up with a magic word. “Libraries. Why don’t you write about your library experiences?” Needless to say, I started musing on this subject and was amazed at how much I remembered.

I have no memory of my first library card. This was because when I was six my parents bought a house that came complete with a library. The old doctor who had lived there with his wife had left their library intact, complete with most of the Harvard Classics and an enormous encyclopedia (which I still have). Also, my mother was a great reader. Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope were her favorites, but she usually managed to get her hands on the latest fiction, too. So you see, I had no need to go to a library.

However, there were two libraries at my school: The Children’s Library, where I discovered The Boxcar Children, the first and best of that series. It had a battered orange cover and was illustrated with black silhouettes. The Friend's Free Library, also connected to the school, was strictly non-fiction, and where my friends and I used to gather down in the basement and read The Kinsey Report. Hot stuff in 1945!

The next library I remember was the Morgan Library where I had my first glimpse of a Jane Austen manuscript. Mansfield Park, I believe it was. Her neat, cursive handwriting inscribed in a lined copybook was a marvel. Did she never cross anything out or make a mistake? It seemed not.

Then there was the 3rd floor room in the New York Public Library and an exhibit of original manuscripts and first editions of the works of romantic British poets. The most thrilling was a first edition of “The Ancient Mariner” in which Coleridge had made a correction in ink in his own hand. In the line, “The horned Moon, with one bright star within the nether tip,“ he had changed “the” to “its,” and the black ink, because of its iron content, had turned a glossy copper. Oh, my!

Once my husband and I did a tour of towns with old libraries. The one I remember best was at Milford, Pennsylvania, on the Delaware River. The building was stone, solid, and gray on the outside, but inside the sun slanted through the windows, catching the dust motes, filling the interior with a golden, gossamer haze. I headed for the Children’s section because I love old children’s books. The stacks were open, and what a treasure trove I found. Copies of St. Nicholas, Chatterbox, fairy-tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham, A Child’s Garden of Verses illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith, and Treasure Island, illustrated by N. C. Wyeth. I could have browsed all day, reliving my childhood, dreaming old dreams.

Robin Hathaway

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