Monday, February 8, 2021

My First Library

By Shari Randall


If you know me, you know I love libraries. Where did that library love start?


When I was growing up, my hometown had two fabulous libraries, so different from one another, each with its own charms.


The grander of the two, the Curtis Memorial Library, was set on a hill across from the Town Hall, and looked down on the city in serene majesty. Our town fathers and mothers knew what they were doing when they situated this building.


The 1903 Greek Revival building was constructed in the classical style to resemble a temple. It had a dome, and a skylight, and everywhere white marble with green veins. The second level had a mesh metal floor that rang slightly with each footstep. There were several plaques inside, including one that fascinated me, of what I thought was an angel holding a sign written in a strange language. Or maybe she was a fairy? (I looked it up. The plaque was called Amor-Caritas, one of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’  depictions of his mistress holding a sign that meant “Love – Charity,” intended to encompass both earthly and spiritual love. I remember this place with awe. The library was grand, imposing, and full of wonders, but it was cold and a bit forbidding to six-year-old me.


So my hometown’s smaller, friendlier branch library was my favorite. A sunny storefront much closer to home, it was packed with children’s books. My older sister and I were allowed to walk there by ourselves and park our wagon by the front door. Sweet independence! I remember a very accommodating librarian, by which I mean one who let me check out anything I wanted: Nancy Drews, Dr. Seuss, books on parakeet care (for Herbie, my first pet), biographies of famous dancers (for what I believed to be my burgeoning ballet career), and books on how to speak Russian (for my other career as Emma Peel. I wasn’t sure what the main character of The Avengers did exactly, but whatever it was, I wanted to be it).


Neither of these buildings is still a library – the grand Curtis Memorial is now a cultural center and the storefront is empty. Both were replaced by an expansive modern library which serves thousands of library lovers each year, including, I’m sure, little girls who love their parakeets and may want to be a spy when they grow up.


Do you remember your first library? Share a memory or photo in the comments.


Former children's librarian Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series and is Library Liaison for Sisters in Crime.




  1. For reading, I mostly remember using school libraries, which were well-stocked.

    In high school I did my research by taking the city bus to the main branch of the Rochester Public library, which was downtown. Just like in college, I could check the card-catalogues and fill out requests. By magic dusty books would appear on a dumb waiter from below ground.

    And the hours I spent reading the microfiche -- oh my.

  2. Wonderful memory, Shari. We,too,had a collosal, classic Carnegie library with a huge, curved marble staircase when you walked in. I’ve written about it often. It feels like such a different time now, when we read a lot and television was just showing up.

  3. I was fortunate that both of my parents were great readers. They not only read to me, they encouraged me to read anything I wanted. I never heard that I was too young for a certain book. As a result, the library was my second home.

    The first library I recall was in the old Presbyterian Church. It was a majestic building with a huge vaulted ceiling. Very appropriate for a lover of books. By the time I was seven, the new library was moved to a modern building with the words Rutherford Free Library carved over the door. It was a huge brick edifice, and, if you entered through a side door, you went directly to the children’s library. Magic. I still remember the crinkly feel of running my finger over the cellophane covered books selecting five that struck my fancy.

    As an aside, I was trying to remember the chronology of the old/new library and I discovered a Vimeo. I was surprised to learn that in the Middle Atlantic and New England states, ladies clubs were largely responsible for the public library system. And they weren't always free.

  4. I was a regular in the children's department at the Westfield, NJ library, biking distance from home and with air-conditioning. Alas, I wasn't allowed in the adult section until
    I turned fourteen.

    We visited my grandparents every summer on Cape Cod, and were regulars at the Chatham library, a huge, late 19th century edifice built of grim red stone. Dark wood and cracked leather chairs filled the interior. When I took my kids to the same library, we found a welcoming children's addition, light, airy, with beanbag chairs.

  5. Oh Jim, microfiche! Those were the days!

  6. Susan, I’ve read your beautiful remembrance. Those Carnegie libraries did so much good, and made a difference for so many people. Plus the buildings were so beautiful!

  7. Kait, thank you for sharing that Vimeo! Yes my town’s library was begun by the ladies of the Thursday Morning Club. I feel another blog coming on!

  8. Like you, Shari, I love libraries. Probably why I set my latest series—the Haunted Library series—in a library. I have fond memories of the old library in Danbury, CT, that I went to during summers when I was little. We had a house on a nearby lake, and I remember going into town and getting as many books as they allowed to bring home to read. Once, my father dropped me off at the library with instructions to wait there until he finished shopping and came by to pick me up. I suppose I grew impatient because I went out into the street looking for him. I didn't find him and began to panic. He found me in the police station, sucking on a lollipop—just like I'd seen in the movies.

  9. Hi Margaret, Air conditioning! What bliss! You make a good point about how forbidding old libraries used to be. I'm glad that most are more relaxed and are friendlier for kids. No matter what they look like, the magic is still there.

  10. Marilyn, I have to laugh at the image of you with your lollipop at the police station, even though your dad must have been frantic!

  11. Our library was on Lake Morton where ducks and swans attacked in hopes of bread. My best friend and I could ride our bikes there. I remember going through the card catalog for book to explain that to my kids?

  12. Libraries were my haven as a child. My mother believed in reading and took us to the public library almost every Saturday, followed by lunch at our favorite hot dog restaurant. My great joy for a few years was the summer reading program --- I could usually complete it in a day or two. Our library was a simple one, but it made me happy. Later, we moved to a town with a more formal Carnegie library, but it didn't have the same impact on me because most of my library time was coming from my school's library - I would check out a book in the morning, read it during class during the day, and usually return it before going home -- taking a different book home with me.

  13. Thanks, Shari, for your charming post. I love libraries too. When we visited Bar Harbor, I spent time in their charming library that looked like the library out of "The Music Man." They were having a used book sale. What an enjoyable afternoon.

  14. Our library was a forbidding place, but it was within walking distance and it did have some interesting books. Besides, it was one of the few destinations we could obtain permission to travel. Not that we didn't go other places--we didn't ask to go to the places we knew we we would never be permitted to go. We just went. Like down to the commercial fishing docks to shove each other into the water.

    The children's section was downstairs, where the handful of kids who'd had polio couldn't get to.

    The library did not have popular books--Nancy Drew could only be had when you knew someone who got one as a birthday present (we all begged our mothers to get them to give our friends when we were invited to a birthday party.)

  15. Kait--my sister lived in Brewster, MA and often visited the Brewster Ladies Library, which was, of course, open to all.