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What is a library? (11/17/2013)
By Frances Edstrom

The places of my childhood populate my life of memories. Butterworth Park at the end of our street is where my brother played baseball and we all went to the Park Rec summer programs and made bracelets and whistle lanyards from gimp. Behind the park was a woodsy area with a small stream running through it where we caught tadpoles, floated rafts, and explored. The Luce’s side yard was the site of our neighborhood softball games. At the corner of our street was the neighborhood grocery store, where we bought bread and milk and candy. Later it became a liquor store, where we could buy snacks and vote for Miss Rheingold Beer. (I wondered later on in life how many Miss Rheingolds were elevated to stardom by 8-year-olds.)

Early in my childhood, my parents took us weekly to the Framingham Public Library, where they checked out their books from the “adult” section, while we sat in the children’s room carefully choosing a book or two to take home. When I reached third grade, I was allowed to walk the ten blocks to the library by myself.

In the summer, maybe after swimming lessons, I would walk to the library to choose my books for the week. The building had enormously high ceilings and tall, majestic windows. Even in the heat of summer, it was cool and airy, fans whirring quietly and ruffling the pages of your book.

In the winter, the library was a haven on a rainy or frigid afternoon when there wouldn’t be any ice skating or sledding. The silence, the light and dancing dust motes pouring into the children’s section made it a perfect place to escape the chaos of home, where the six of us siblings rocked the house.

By myself, I wasn’t allowed in the adult section, where people sat quietly reading newspapers and magazines, or in the research section, where older kids could go to study. But there was nothing to prevent me from exploring the stacks, with their glass floors, floor to ceiling books, and deep window wells in which to sit to examine the mysterious volumes there. It was there that I discovered that Peter Pan was not a Walt Disney invention, but had been written by J. M. Barrie long ago. That discovery led to the happy news that there were many, many plays I could read and pretend to act out.

I left Framingham before I got to the stage in life where I sat in the adult section reading. I did, however, use the reference room, and checked out authors we didn’t have at home: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters.

I thoroughly sympathize with the letter writers who take issue with the recent sale by the Winona Public Library of a large portion of its collection. It is a library’s collection that sets it apart from a used book store, whose business model is to be a place where people go to rent or buy recent releases.

A library by definition must have a collection of books, not just recent releases, that an ordinary person would not be expected to have at home, a place and materials to do research, a place the average citizen can find the great books of our civilization.

If there is a problem with storage in the Winona Public Library building, perhaps rather than selling off the collection, it would be preferable to find storage space for some of the less called-for books and materials. People will already wait for a book that is ordered through SELCO, they would surely wait a day to get a book from local storage. The Winona Public Library should assess and guard its collection, and not succumb to the urge to purge itself of anything that is not a recent release or best seller.

Although the Winona Public Library is a beautiful building, that should not divert us from its primary function as a depository of books. 


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