Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but on beholding it (for every thing announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels.
Mr. Collins may never have read novels from a circulating library, but we know that Jane Austen did. Given the price of books at the time, it was a necessity for most readers. I grew up in a small town in upstate New York where the public library was my lifeline. I would take out as many books as I could carry and lose myself in them for the next two weeks, then I’d go back for more. The first copy of Pride & Prejudice I read came from the public library. That’s why it broke my heart last week when I read this in the Daily Gazette:
At the Schoharie Free Library, Director Cathy Caiazzo started sifting through the thousands of ruined books in the collection. More than 26 inches of water covered the first floor of the Victorian structure on the corner of Knower Avenue.
Books, computers, and paper records were all badly damaged. The shed containing books to be sold at an upcoming sale was lifted from its footings and carried several blocks away.
“I think that might be it,” she said, squinting at the small yellow building barely visible in the distance.
Only the library’s collection of non-fiction books — stored in the second floor — was unscathed.
I’m not from Schoharie. I was born and raised in a town on the other side of the river and I now live half-way across the country, but you can tell I grew up in the area because I can spell Schoharie and Schenectady without having to look them up. The library in my town was a converted suburban house, and I envied Schoharie its library in a beautiful Victorian house, the kind you’d love to curl up in to read.
My town was spared flooding after Hurricane Irene, but Schoharie suffered some of the worst damage. Schoharie still doesn’t have power, internet, phone lines or even postal service, so last week I had to hunt to find a way to reach the library to say I’d like to donate copies of my books and to ask if there was any other way people could help. Yesterday I got this email from the librarian there:
Thank you so much for spreading the word about us! The library’s mailing address is PO Box 519, Schoharie, NY 12157-0519. The village’s mail is currently being diverted, but it will arrive eventually (I’m sure the bills will!).
The library’s website is www.schoharielibrary.org and there’s a link to photos on Flikr there also.
I have a shirt that says “Libraries are the *heart* of every community” and I’m realizing now how right it is.
Stay in touch,
Last night I posted on Facebook about the library’s situation and the response was heartwarming. People have been asking how they can best help, and I’ve been trying to find that out (not so easy on Sunday of a holiday weekend!). The library will need books, but probably don’t have much space to put them yet. In the meantime, we can send them checks or gift certificates from Amazon, B&N, or IndieBound. For people who would like to support them through a local independent bookstore, I’d suggest calling the Open Door Bookstore (518-346-2719) in nearby Schenectady and ask for a gift certificate for the Schoharie Free Library. Since today is Sunday, I haven’t talked to them about this yet, but independent bookstores elsewhere are providing this service to their local libraries, and the Open Door is a wonderful bookstore to support. I’ll post updates about the library and how to help as I get more information, and my deepest thanks to everyone who can help and/or repost the information to reach more people. Let’s make sure the people in this devastated area at least have books in which they can escape from their struggles. Jane Austen would be proud!
For more about the Schoharie Free Library and other libraries damaged by Hurricane Irene, there’s an informative article in Library Journal.