Editorial: Celebrating a welcome love for libraries

  • Hadley voters Tuesday approved $3.7 million to combine with a $3.9 million state grant for a new library to replace the Goodwin Memorial Library. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Any book-loving adult can testify that the memory of one’s first library locks itself into every human sense. The smell of ink and book cover, the feel of a gently thumbed page, the sound of voices speaking in hushed animation, the wash of soft lamplight, the taste of … worlds opening. They are all of a piece.

This community’s love of libraries has cascaded through the headlines in recent weeks, as residents, business owners and librarians have stepped forward in towns across the Valley — and beyond — to show their support of the beloved community hubs.

In Hadley Tuesday night, a large turnout of voters decided overwhelmingly (449-28) to contribute $3.7 million toward the $8.27 million cost of replacing the Goodwin Memorial Library with a structure that retains a good bit of the 1902 building’s personality but creates a modern space with more room for books, parking, a story garden, climate-controlled rooms for historic collections and improved space for children, staff and community members.

The special Town Meeting vote, which must be supported by a Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion ballot vote Nov. 14, allows the town to take advantage of a $3.9 million state construction grant. It is, as library trustees Chairwoman Jo-Ann Konieczny said, “a once-in-a-hundred-years opportunity.”

Meanwhile, in Amherst, students and educators at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School are celebrating an unexpected gift from a University of Kansas librarian who never lived in the Pioneer Valley but left the school library a $65,000 bequest.

Ann Hyde died in 2014 after a quiet-but-distinguished career as a manuscripts librarian at the university. Perhaps more remarkable than her gift — which the school is using to make over the library with 115 new chairs, a long counter for students working on laptops, a divider to create a pleasure-reading section and other improvements — was her lack of obvious connection to the town, school and its library.

Hyde never lived here nor studied in its schools. Her bequest appears to be motivated at least in part by her wish to honor her longtime friend and fellow librarian, Alexandra “Sandy” Mason, who appeared in Amherst High’s 1948 yearbook and went on to Mount Holyoke College. Judging from her and Mason’s other gifts to libraries, the generosity also flowed from the purest source: a love of rooms filled with books and those who love them.

In Easthampton, Eastworks owner Will Bundy demonstrated a like beneficence in providing a temporary home for the Emily Williston Memorial Library in the grand old mill building that has become a home to residences and businesses ranging from a restaurant to yoga studio to the state Registry of Motor Vehicles.

The library’s holdings need a temporary home while the 136-year-old structure undergoes an emergency repair for recently discovered “serious issues” in its foundation. Enter Eastworks, which is providing a 1,500-square-foot space free of charge.

Charging the library rent “didn’t cross our minds,” said Bundy. As a bonus, the space is right across from the RMV — meaning that people waiting for their licenses and plates might have a place to go and fill their time with literature instead of clock-watching.

Inspiring words aren’t limited to the insides of public libraries, as Katie Krol has demonstrated at Meekins Library in Williamsburg. Krol, the library director, adorned the sign on the lawn outside with the peace-loving words of The Youngbloods’ song, “Get Together,” after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“C’mon people now, smile on your brother,” urges the sign.

At libraries, smiles come easily. The words are free, the wisdom without price. What, especially in these tumultuous times, could be more precious?