One Lovely Library

Interior Thayer Memorial Library

“Libraries raised me.” —Ray Bradbury

When the good citizens of the small Massachusetts town, Lancaster (founded in 1653), decided to build a memorial for the 39 home town soldiers killed in the Civil War, they built “a free public library, with well-laden shelves, a reading-room, and needful appliances.” (Little did the founding fathers know, that “needful appliances” would include computers some 125 years later.)

Rather than a statue to honor them, the town’s citizens felt a Library would better commemorate the soldiers’ sacrifices.

I lived in Lancaster for about three years during my girlhood, and once a week, my mother would take my brother and me to the Thayer Memorial Library.  It was a sturdy brick building, with large floor-to-ceiling windows.  Bookcases lined the walls of the first floor and the walls of the second floor balcony, which was reached by a spiral staircase.  Large round wooden tables were scattered throughout the Library…you could spread your books out and gaze at them, thumbing through the pages.

Interior of the Library

My favorite books included a series with  “Little Maid,” in the title (A little Maid of Massachusetts Colony, A Little Maid of Bunker Hill, A Little Maid of Mohawk Valley, etc,).  No, these were not books about household servants but a series of historical novels about little girls who helped fight the revolutionary war.

In these books, little girls carried secret messages to generals, helped capture English privateers, and served as spies.  Of course, they performed these duties all while being impeccably dressed  in pretty dresses with pinafores, and in their high button boots.  Those little girls could accomplish anything, and I almost believed the Revolutionary War wouldn’t have been won without their efforts.

Memorials to fallen soldiers come in many guises, but I can’t think of a better one, than a “free public library,” to the town’s future residents.  I didn’t know the names of the solders but their sacrifice resulted in a gift that was immeasurable:   light-filled rooms full of books, which fostered my imagination and a life-long love of books.

I encountered librarians who didn’t mind a small girl asking loads of questions, and who helped me choose the “best” books.

As Ray Bradbury said in the opening quote; “libraries raised me.” And I can’t think of a better parent.

(National Library Week is April 9-15, 2017)

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By Hand

Enchantment comes in many forms but rarely when we expect it.  So when I signed up for a two day course in making clam shell boxes at the Cat Tail Run Hand Bookbinding Studio in Winchester, Virginia, I anticipated a detailed workshop on the finer points of box-making.  One box would have a curved spine, a more complicated structure.

cat tail bindery photo
Cat Tail Bindery

Clam shell boxes, are boxes most often used to house rare, fragile, or valuable books, or loose papers.  Each box is custom made and the parts of each box must be cut precisely by hand, and measured multiple times before cuts are made. Pasting is done by hand and at each stage of the structure, several things can go wrong.  As often as not, your eye is the best guide.

We arrived for our two-day workshop on a warm October day.   We walked on a small bridge over a Koi pond and entered a large, light-filled, high-ceilinged studio in the Virginia countryside.    We listened to the music of Bach while a gentle breeze wafted through our space.

We worked in a space full of tools and books, handmade paper, and rolls of book cloth with a dedicated teacher who has restored General Sherman’s battle plans, books from George Washington’s Library, the White House, and Ford’s Theatre.   Our activities were over-seen by Molly, the cat, and Bailey, the black lab.

photo of Molly the bindery cat
Molly, the bindery cat

We left the digital world behind and entered a world where things are done by hand and we could  sit back and admire our work at each step of the way.

When I make a book, or a box to hold that book by hand, I feel a connection to communities from hundreds of years ago:  To monks in monastery  libraries who labored by candlelight; to book artisans in small shops along the Grand Canal in Venice; and to palace libraries that exist to this day.  Yes, the materials have changed over hundreds of years, but the techniques are the same and many of the tools are similar.  And isn’t that one definition of enchantment–to be part of a grand community of artists and artisans, going back hundreds of years?