Hometown Views: Libraries

Today Erin from Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs and I are debuting a feature we are calling Hometown Views. Every other week we will focus on a different aspects, locations, or landmarks of our differing towns (or city in Erin’s case).

This week we are sharing photos and thoughts about our local libraries. Erin lives in a more urban area, and I live in a smaller, more rural area. We both have a few different libraries we can choose from that we have visited, but we both have one library that means more to us than others.

The library building in the town we lived in prior to moving to our current home, was a beautiful facility and like most of the seven libraries in the county I grew up in, was built in the late 1800s, specifically to be a library.

Spalding Memorial Library, Athens, Pa.

It has three stories filled with books and a fourth story which houses the local museum. The museum features artifacts from Native Americans who originally settled the area, various historical objects from the area, uniforms and weapons from a variety of wars, and old photographs. It’s a small space but packed full of fascinating items.

I didn’t take a lot of books out there over the years, but we did attend various events there and I was at the library a lot covering events when I worked at the newspaper. I also let my children jump in mud puddles outside of that library one rainy day while patrons gawked at me like I had three heads. Good times.

Another library in a beautiful building sits next to the newspaper building (now abandoned, sadly) where I used to work. The library features two or three levels of bookshelves, accessible by metal stairs and ladders. There used to be a children’s section in the back. A few years ago, the library purchased an old carriage house behind the library building, and converted it into children’s wing, opening up the rest of the library for computers and more rows of adult or reference books.

While there is a good selection of libraries in our little rural area, for me, the library that means the most to me is in the town I now live in.

This library is actually in the county next to the county where I grew up, however, I lived only about five miles outside of this town up until I was about 25. I then married and moved 45 minutes north, where I lived for 18 years.

I remember coming home from the library with plastic library bags full of books. Mom would have one or two bags and I had one. We’d walk into the house and Dad would say, “More books? How will you even have time to read all of those?”

Well, Dad, not having a ton of friends helps with that. My friends were inside the books. Okay, not totally. I did have friends, but my friends liked to read too so there were times we didn’t hang out and during those times we read.

The library was and is small. There are three or four aisles with books on either side and then a small children’s room.

A recent program in the children’s room of the Sullivan County Library, Dushore, Pa.

All on one floor. Yes, that’s it, but when I was a kid, it was enough for me. I actually don’t remember ever picking books out of the children’s room. I read books that were probably too old for me, in some ways, but not inappropriate in any way, so I chose from the main shelves.

The rows of books are off to the right and back.

I was in love with The Cat Who books, which I, of course, still talk about on here (I finished reading one just this past weekend and have a blog post in the works about my love for the series). I also signed out quite a few Beverly Cleary books. Christian Fiction was another genre that caught my attention there.

I loved walking the aisles, running my fingertips over the spines of the books, picking them up and opening them, breathing in deep the smell of ink and paper, knowing that soon I’d be transported away from my sometimes boring life and into a world fresh and new to me.

My kid at the library in the town we currently live in. Excuse the cellphone quality.

I was so excited to move to this town and be able to go to the library again. But then I remembered my recent phobia of signing out library books and worrying about damaging them, which makes me take them back before I’ve even finished them. The phobia started in our previous hometown, because if I forgot to return a book that library would call, then text, then call, then text and so on until I returned it. I felt like a criminal. It was just easier to order books on Kindle or buy them at library sales.

The last straw was when I ran into a member of the library staff and mentioned to her I was bringing a replacement for a book I’d lost to the library. She told me not to worry but then let me know that if people don’t return books, the library has been known to send a report to the local district magistrate’s office. Gulp. That return book was in their hands the very next day after that and I never signed out another book from them. (But, no, I do not really believe she was threatening me. She was just sharing the libary’s new policies.)

You Know What didn’t help with my excitement about the little library here last year since I couldn’t peruse the shelves for almost a year. Then I became annoyed at our local library a few weeks ago because they continued to advertise their summer reading program, as if new people could join, but it was full. I had missed the deadline by a few days, but I called the library and asked if I could slide my daughter in. They never returned my call, so I called again. Still no call. When I finally was able to catch up to someone, they told me the program was full and my daughter could not attend.

It was fine that they had capped the program because they don’t have a lot of space but what was annoying was that they would advertise the program in the local newspaper as if children could attend, even though they couldn’t. So, I was a bit snitty with the lovely ladies who volunteer there and even though I apologized profusely for being jerky, I still feel super shy about going back in again. That’s why some of the photos I will share here are from my cellphone a couple years ago and from their website. That’s right, I’m a big scaredy cat to go there right now, even though they forgave me and said it was totally understandable that I had been annoyed. When I do go in, I will take them a big box of baked goods from the local bakery. A bakery called — I love this — The Mad Bakers.

I do love the library and I do love what they do for the community so I feel super, super guilty about being a jerk. I make sure to donate them or promote them whenever I can.

For a tiny library, they really do have a lot of variety of books. They have a great deal of Christian Fiction, which is popular in our area, but they also have a great deal of mysteries, popular books, and this month they added 65 new titles of tons of genres to their shelves. They hold a variety of programs throughout the year for all ages, but especially children and families.

We loved this magic show we attended there at the beginning of June.

In many ways, they are the center of the tiny community here (of 600 people in the entire town).

Another library I want to mention is one I visited once or twice as a child and teenager. That library, located in the little town of New Albany, Pa. was completely destroyed in 2018 when it was knocked of it’s foundation by rising flood waters. Quite a few people in our state have heard about the library because it was washed off it’s foundation and came to rest in the middle of a major highway. Or at least part of it came to rest there.

The New Albany Library before a flash flood knocked it off it’s foundation and into the middle of a highway. It was a surreal scene!

It was hit by flooding the week before it was knocked off it’s foundation, but I don’t think anyone thought that whole building, with a concrete foundation, would go down.

There was an apartment upstairs and the people who lived there were rescued by a member of the fire department who lived next door and whose home also was damaged. His home was again damaged last week in flooding.

Some of the damage from the library’s Facebook page in August 2018.
The library after it was pushed back off the highway so traffic could go through town. The highway is a major highway for truck traffic, etc.

The rest of the library, including books and documents, were scattered across the street, down the street, and downstream.

The library is still gone. The funding the governor (who came to inspect the site) and the state promised would come to replace it was never provided. The funding the county mentioned they might be able to obtain to rebuild it, also never came. Land has been donated to build a new library building, but so far there are no funds to complete the project. The state will also not allow the borough to go into the creek behind the space to clean it out and keep flooding from happening again so the residents of the borough again suffered damage last week when they, again, had flash flooding.

Following the Pennsylvania governor when he toured the site. I took photographs for the paper my husband was working for at the time.

There is a small little library-like set up in town, in front of the church, far away from where it normally floods. Books are placed in a structure that resembles an old British phone booth and patrons can take a book and replace it with another book.

Growing up I only visited the library a few times, but it was cozy and housed a great deal of local history. Its loss was a huge hit to a small town that has already taken many hits over the years.

Thanks for joining me for a tour of the libraries in my area. Now I hope you will hop over to Erin’s blog and check out her post about the libraries she attends and enjoys.

The town that lost its’ library

The day the library died in the tiny town of New Albany, Pennsylvania, rain fell from the clouds like a waterfall and didn’t stop. The already saturated ground gave way with nothing left to hold it in place. A week before the bottom floor of the library had taken on water in another flash flood, most likely weakening the foundation.
Volunteers were working to clean out the ruined books two days before the water rose again, sending water rushing up around the building as it had before, across the major highway running through town and toward the gas station in the middle of town.
This time the building couldn’t withstand the rush of the water. No one had expected it all to wash into highway it had sat next to for over 60 years, crumbling like a matchstick house, but it did, taking with it some of what one community member called “the dedication of so many to keep it going.”
The downstairs of the building, where the library was, was empty of people when the building collapsed, but a family upstairs was there and held on tight to each other as it fell and their apartment landed fully intact in the water rushing by. Neighbors and the local fire department helped to rescue them, pulling them out and across the rushing water to safety.
The building hadn’t always been a library. A few times it had been a store and above it was an apartment for those who ran the business downstairs. After it became the town library many volunteers, most middle-aged to older women who were retired or homemakers, filled it with books, organizing and categorizing and creating a gift for what some might call a dying town.
Inside its walls were whole new worlds; voices never before heard, thoughts never before thought, dreams never before dreamed, chances to be given, opportunities to be provided, and lives to be escaped for just a little while.
For some, a library doesn’t seem very important, especially in this modern age when books can be read on digital devices and smartphones. But to a town without much, a library can provide a sense of community, a sense of imagination, and even a feeling of belonging.
“Expand your mind” is the encouraging message added at the top of the library’s Facebook page, updated the week flood waters first damaged the library.
Who could blame members of the town if they felt a desire to give up a little bit more on the town when they saw the crumbled ruins of the library either in person or in photos. Some 30 years ago the only factory in town closed, and in subsequent years the town pool was filled in, the only local supermarket burned to the ground, the town bank closed, the elementary school closed, the population began to dwindle and hope began to fade.
The factory never came back but the store reopened and later became a mini-mart and gas station, there was still a post office, a beauty shop, a borough park where the pool once was, and a sense of community- if only one that hung by a thread.
While the town may be dying from an economic standpoint, there are some trying to keep the community feel alive by organizing family days, fire company fundraisers, and, of course, preschool storytime at the library.

Let’s be honest, anyone trying to keep the community feeling in a small town alive today should be commended since it isn’t the physical community that is dying in today’s society, but the idea behind what a community really is. Defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals,” the psychological idea of community is fading into a world where our primary form of communication is smartphones and social media, or anything that doesn’t involve actual in-person interaction.

When photos of the library smashed in the middle of Route 220 surfaced on social media last week a deep feeling of loss was expressed, maybe because so many remembered a simpler time when talking to people face-to-face was normal and days for reading and focusing on less than 10 activities at a time was normal.

 

Honestly, there isn’t much to the town anymore, in some ways. I grew up two miles from there and many of my days were spent riding bikes with my best friends, Julia and Sarah, on its’ streets. I attended the elementary school, swam in the community pool, walked to the local store for snacks, ate with my grandmother at the small diners that are now gone, and yes, even visited the library a couple of times.
For me and others, losing the library was like watching even more of the community break away. After the most recent flash flooding, the library won’t be the only building that will have to be torn down, a fact that only adds to the heartbreak.
“I can’t remember a time without the library,” one man said.
His mother, Doris, was one of the volunteers who worked to build the library’s collection. Now in a nursing home, she asks visitors from her hometown, “How’s the library doing?” Family and friends have decided they won’t tell her the truth about the building, but instead simply let her believe, as they’ve always told her, “It’s doing well.”
Another resident, Todd, said, “The library was a labor of love of so many people. There were many times when some thought it was not used and thus not needed, but these people persevered and keep it going. There were times when hardly anyone came, but they still were there during operating hours. The people were dedicated to keeping the library open, found ways to bring in new books and create programs for kids. And most recently, it became a place for local histories and genealogies. Breaks my heart to see it completely washed away. “
“I remember being very young and going to get a book. It was a big deal to be able to pick your own book out!” a cousin of mine, Gila, said. “I started volunteering at 16 with Doris. I’d stay a few years and then move on. I always came back.

She was one of the main volunteers running the library, updating and rearranging it in the years and months before the flood destroyed it.
Volunteers aren’t yet sure if, or how, they’ll rebuild the library. A fundraising effort has started and the hope is that one day they’ll find a new home where they can again open a  small bastion of imagination, nurtured community and unvetted learning in a small, sometimes physically crumbling town.
Since I recently rediscovered my love for reading full books, and not only short excerpts, I’d love to see the fundraiser succeed and for the spark of knowledge to be lit again. And maybe through it, a desire to rebuild the other parts of town damaged or falling apart even before the flood.
To learn more about the fundraiser to rebuild the library click on this link….