Special Libraries in My Life

Lea Wait here, celebrating National Library Week by honoring the libraries that have meant the most in my life. It’s hard to pick just a few, since I’ve spent so much time in so many, but there have been three very special ones. 

The first library I remember was near my grandmother’s house in Roslindale, Massachusetts. She’d bought me a copy (I still own it) of Thornton Burgess’ Chatterer the Red Squirrel and I had, with some difficulty but much joy, read THE WHOLE BOOK by myself.  I must have been 5 or 6 years old, and the words I’d asked for help on are still underlined in my copy. When I finished she took me to that library … and showed me an entire shelf of Burgess’ books. I still remember looking at them with awe and realizing I could now read them all. (And I did.) As I think back, that was also probably the first time I  understood that authors wrote books, and if you liked one book by a person, there were others to be read, too. 

Most of my childhood reading, though, came from the Glen Ridge Public Library in New Jersey. When I was in 6th grade I was given permission to walk there by myself on Saturdays, and I did, taking out as many books as I was allowed every week. When I was in 10th and 11th grade I worked there after school and on Saturdays as a page and discovered the shelves of books on writing, and the adult mystery section, and the roped off stacks, which, as an employee, I was now allowed to enter.

Main Hall Glen Ridge Public Library

I memorized the Dewey Decimal System. When I ran out of books to re-shelve, I’d take a section and check it, book by book, to see that it was shelved properly. In the two years I worked there (at fifty cents an hour) I “found” hundreds of books that were shelved in the wrong sections. I loved that job. And when, a few years later, I was living in Greenwich Village in New York and working on a masters’ thesis on the role of the mother in teen literature in the 1950s and 60s, the librarians in Glen Ridge helped me find books long out of print by doing inter-library loans in New Jersey for books that had long since disappeared from the New York library system. 

Another library that has a special place in my heart is the Wiscasset Library in Maine. In the summers, as a child, I joined the summer reading program there, and often “won” it, with my picture ending up in the Wiscasset Newspaper. The children’s librarian would keep books aside for me, knowing I’d finish off my reading list (I’d read every one of the “suggested books”) by mid-July. As an older summer visitor to Maine the Wiscasset Library was also a regular stop, and when I finally was able to call Maine my fulltime home, obtaining a card there was one of my first steps as a Mainer.

Wiscasset Library

The Archives room at the Wiscasset Library is the source for much of the historical information in the novels I’ve written. I’ve spent hundreds of hours, there, exploring research trails, reading old journals, and examining genealogical materials. The Weymouth Library in Shadows of a Down East Summer is very much like the Wiscasset Library. 

When my first book, Stopping to Home (set in Wiscasset in 1806,) was published in 2001, Janet Morgan, then the head librarian in Wiscasset, was the first person to ask me to do a reading and signing.  

I was nervous, but thrilled. I was even more thrilled when she introduced me to an older woman who arrived early that day and sat in the front row, so she wouldn’t miss anything. To my amazement, she was that children’s librarian who’d helped me find books for the summer reading program, so many years ago. She hadn’t forgotten me. 

Since then, I’ve spoken at many libraries in Maine, and in other states, too.  But every time I have a new book published, historical or mystery, I first go back and speak at the Wiscasset Library. 

It’s kind of like going home.

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5 Responses

  1. I remember the Roslindale library, Lea! I wonder if we ever crossed paths — if we did, you were in the toddlers circle and I was the old person reading in the corner!

  2. I doubt we were THAT distant in age! But a very cool thought! Of all the libraries in the world … How wonderful! Thanks for letting me know! My great-grandparents lived in Roslindale beginning in the 1920s, and then left their house to my grandparents, who lived there until the mid-1950s, when they moved in with my parents, in New Jersey and in Maine. I spent a lot of my (very early) years on Edgemont Street in Roslindale; a couple of full years, and many vacations. Many happy memories.

  3. What a nice column (maybe it’s a blog). I enjoyed reading it. Thanks. Con Lehane

  4. Thank you,Con!

    • I love these small world stories, especially when my ’50s life catches up with me!
      Thanks for the great, timely post, Lea.

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