How we came to be lovers of reading

My wife and I are proud members of the Friends of Schenectady County Public Library, a cause we beli

My wife and I are proud members of the Friends of Schenectady County Public Library, a cause we believe in strongly and hope to do more for in the future.

In my case, a love of reading started with mysteries and blossomed into court reporting for newspapers. Beverly’s reading tastes are more omnivorous and undoubtedly played a role in her long career in education.

In both cases we were preteens when we received our much-coveted library cards.

Here in Schenectady County, where there is a main library and nine additional branches, the Friends raise a great deal of money for library projects. In 2011, at the request of Andy Kulmatiski, who was then library director, the Friends donated $250,000 to the cost of building an addition to the library — on top of $70,000 already previously contributed.

The Friends raise money through gifts, memorials, endowments, book sales and bequests of money. They provide money for after-school and vacation week programs, and they purchase new material for the branches. Children’s reading programs receive special attention, with the Friends’ paying for such incentives as book bags, bookmarks, posters, puzzles and prizes for the Summer Reading Club.

The group also operates a little book store, the Whitney, just a short walk from the main library, open every day and staffed by 18 shifts of volunteers. Books in good shape are donated to the Whitney, which sells them to patrons. Revenue averages $1,000 a week. Twice a year there are major sales of books and other media that generates thousands of dollars.

Where most communities probably would describe themselves as a place where reading is important and worthy of encouragement, it’s not always the case.

You can become a member of the Friends of the Library for a small fee that pays for a bi-monthly newsletter with a listing of all library and Friends’ programs. Membership contributions go toward purchasing new materials and supplies for the library, staff development and training, and public programs and classes. Memberships are $10 for individuals; $15 for families; $25 for contributing; $35 for supporting; $50-$199 for patrons; $200 for benefactors.

Recently the Friends asked its members if they recalled their first encounter with a library. It is bringing in a variety of reminiscences.

My own first visit — or at least a very early one — brought me to the mysteries section of the fiction room at the Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls. The lovely old building in City Park was a gift of a lumber baron of the past. I spent many pleasurable hours there, and years later joined the library board and chaired the citizens committee that created a special taxing district to ensure the library’s financial future.

Another memory: When she was in her early 20s, Susannah Risley writes, she attended the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, 120 miles south of the Arctic Circle. “I lived in a cabin in the woods on an abandoned mining claim. My winter job was at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Library, at that time housed in an old log building. One of my duties was to pack boxes of books to be flown to the ‘bush.’ These might include books on mining, trapping and hunting along with novels by Knut Hansen and Jack London. In summers I worked for the Bureau of Land Management as a fire lookout on nearby Ester Dome. Once a month a BLM truck took me to Fairbanks for supplies. I stocked up on books that I devoured at the lookout. In winter I read by kerosene lamp in my cabin. In summer I read in my lookout during the almost endless days of light. How did I ever get so lucky?”

My wife’s mother was a great advocate of reading and had an extensive collection of classic works — purchased one or two at a time from the Women’s Drugstore in Bridgeport, Conn., volumes like the popular classics Art-Type Editions with gilt decoration lettering published by Books Inc. of New York and Boston. There is no date but they appear to be from the ’40s. She also had access to the Black Rock Branch of the Bridgeport Public Library.

Her daughter Beverly could not wait until she qualified for her own library card, and it took her all one summer to do so. She had to be able to write her name, and her mother practiced with her on an almost daily basis on her chalkboard in the backyard.

From Sam Wait came this memory of his first library link: “My first job was as ‘Page Boy Third Class’ at the Brandywine Branch of the Library. Theoretically, all I could do was shelve books that had been returned by borrowers. The librarian in charge at that time was Miss Adele Brown (Hopefully I have her name correct.) However, she went home for dinner leaving me alone in the Library for a while. During that time I checked out books and even tried to answer some reference questions. One I remember well was from a boy who wanted to know about ‘boondoggle,’ a material for making a lanyard out of thin plastic fibers. I was able to point him to the Boy Scout handbook which had the answer. If I remember correctly I was paid $0.35 per hour for this part-time job in 1948 or 1949.”

We talk about books a lot at our house. We’re not opposed in any way to electronic media. But we still prefer the smell of a library and the feel of a solid novel sitting on our lap.

Reach the writer at P.Box 1090, Schenectady, N.Y. 12090. His column reflects his own opinion and not that of the newspaper. Reach him by email to [email protected]

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