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The charms of a small-town library

Modern libraries may have up-to-the-minute technology, but they lack the friendly, nostalgic feel of their older counterparts.

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There has been talk of building a new library in our town. Some think it is what this place needs; others are for sticking with what we have. I'm in the latter camp. It's true our small-town library has no computers, no interlibrary loan system, no DVD collection. There is no self-service checkout where you scan the bar code on your book, just as at the supermarket.

What our town has is unique: The library is more a reading room than a repository with technological aids; more a literary salon – although a loosely structured one – than a hushed space with little interaction among patrons.

Our library is located on the second floor of a solid brick building. On the lower level are a fudge shop and drugstore.

As you ascend to the second level from the door on the street, the smell of fudge and caramel permeates the stairwell. And just across the street is a cookie bakery, so that reading and sweet food are forever linked in the minds of patrons.

During my lifetime, I've been a card-carrying member of several small-town libraries – some adjoined to police stations, some to firehouses. But the best library combo is with a fudge shop.

The two women who alternate as librarians know nearly everyone who comes through the double doors. Instead of keeping a card in their possession, patrons have a card that remains in the drawer at the circulation desk.

When I moved to the area, I became No. 15,821. No number is ever retired, no card thrown out. When a book is checked out, the card in the sleeve at the back is slipped out and the borrower's number and due date written there. One of the librarians has come across book cards with her number (a three-digit one) and due dates in 1939.

When I've visited some of the lovely new libraries in nearby counties, I've been reminded of the supermarket experience of choosing your "product" and checking it out, or standing in line to have it checked out at a counter where the library employee is unlikely to comment on your choices.

These new libraries have high-ceilinged foyers, marble floors, intricate wood molding, and clerestory windows. But they don't have the patina of the past, the décor of nostalgia that calls one back to childhood Saturday mornings spent in a library.

Do these new public facilities with banks of computers have a faded globe on its stand, radiators hissing softly beneath the tall windows that look out on a wedge of harbor, or a sculpture of a cougar?


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