Summer 2006

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The Library Circuit

Sam Patton, Editor

Summer 2006 issue of Trustee

Not all of us are content to visit our local libraries.  Here is an excerpt from the New York Times by Anne Eisenberg, published June 11, 2006, about a different kind of book lover, and a different kind of library.

“Susan Kelly is an avid reader of detective novels, but the public library doesn’t always have what she wants and she draws the line at buying books in hardcover. So Ms. Kelly joined a membership library, where she has, among many other privileges, the run of more than 15,000 new and classic mysteries. ‘You can even get the originals of books from the 1920’s,’ she said. The staff members, she added, ‘just pull them off the shelf and hand them to you.’

Ms. Kelly has discovered a little-known retreat: the hushed reading rooms, special collections and lively discussion groups of a membership library — in this case, the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction, founded in 1820 for the education of clerks and still going strong in an eight-story building on 17 East 47th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues. Her annual membership fee is $90.

The Mercantile is one of 17 membership libraries scattered through the United States, survivors of an era long before that of tax-supported public libraries, said Erika Torri, executive director of the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library in La Jolla, Calif. The La Jolla library offers its 2,300 subscribers a large circulating DVD and video collection in art, foreign film and music, among other attractions. An individual membership costs $40 a year.

All of them are a world apart from public libraries, with their buzzing crowds and constant foot traffic. In contrast, the reading rooms at the membership libraries have the velvety quiet that Lord Peter Wimsey may once have encountered at the Bellona Club.”

While I can relate to the quiet, rarely crowded atmosphere, I think I would miss the ‘feel’ of a community library, with the very diverse ages, interests, and other programs.

For example, the Pleasant Valley Library here in Dutchess County, was host to at least a pair of rats earlier this summer.  No one called for an exterminator, and most were fascinated by the visitors.  These were tame laboratory rats, the pets of Candace Coates, who is a Celtic Harpist, and who brought them to the library as part of a children’s program.  I hope to get pictures and more details for the next issue.

Our own East Fishkill Library has dedicated one wall to the rotating display of the work of local artists.  The photo shows one of the artists, Ion Zupucu, a photographer, with some of his pictures hanging behind him.

Our reading program recently ended with a magic show with two magicians.  One was a young man just starting out.  He presented a few special illusions, to music.  The second one presented a series of small mysteries to the audience of three to ten year olds and their parents.  He told them that the real magic in a library and reading was the magic of imagination which could take readers to far and thrilling, beautiful places. They could use their own imaginations to decide what people and things looked like, not just some TV writer’s one idea.

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