There’s never been a doubt in my mind that the library is an integral and essential part of the fabric of Fanwood, but this reminiscence from local resident Susan Schott Karr just confirms it. Her family members are still frequent library visitors, and I was delighted when she offered up this beautiful memory of the library from 1969, and her involvement here as a 14 year old library page… a mere 46 years ago. Some of my personal highlights from her story are, “I made ninety cents an hour, half of which I had to put in the bank to save for college, the other half of which I had to use to pay for clothes” and “I took on the understanding that growing out of childhood and putting away a child’s story did not necessarily go hand in hand. I couldn’t get enough.”
The deep routes and direct connection we have to the community is a big part of what makes this library special and we still maintain the tradition of hiring teens for pages, which often provides them their first real job experience.
Thanks so much to Susan for sharing her memories, and all the Schotts for their support!
Guest post by Susan Schott Karr – July 31, 2013
Unless you count babysitting, working as a “page” at the Fanwood Memorial Library constituted my first real job. I’m not sure how I heard about the opening: it may have been due to a post on the library’s bulletin bard. I loved the library and spent a good deal of time there already, perusing the stacks, looking for the next magical discovery. I’d been going since the days when we lived in our Farley Avenue house. At that time, my mother dragged us all a mile up the street and up a hill, with her own hands on the handlebars of the big black baby buggy. During the summers, we went once a week, holding hands as we crossed the street, looking both ways, staying together.
Once in a while, I’d have a dream in which I got locked in the library overnight. How thrilling! I had all those hours to read from Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, which he hadn’t written, yet had named after twelve colors, from blue to pink to lilac to violet, or to explore the thirteen titles Frank Baum wrote as sequels to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or to reread my pick of Carolyn Keene’s mysteries.
At age fourteen, getting a job at the library seemed equivalent to having another happy dream. By now, we’d been in our newer (150 years old instead of 200), bigger house, a former carriage house with hay and horseshoes still stuck inside the walls, for about five years. We lived across the street from what we called “the big house.” (We used this term about any big house.) Mr. and Mrs. Wilson lived with their two corgis in the three story, white-pillared place that boasted a cherry tree-from which the Wilsons invited us to pick fruit for pies that my mother would make-as well as an abandoned, slate-bottomed built-in pool that harbored a scrim of lily pads. The Wilson’s yard stretched from our street all the way to the next, and from the other end of their yard, one had only to cross the street to arrive at the library.
Mr. Wilson, a retired AT&T executive, encouraged me to cut through their yard to get to work, and I began to make the two-minute commute after school, three days a week. I made ninety cents an hour, half of which I had to put in the bank to save for college, the other half of which I had to use to pay for clothes-shoes and coats, patterns and material, zippers and buttons.
I worked as a page for two years. At first, I shelved books from a cart after library patrons returned them. Then I began to mend the books, applying book glue to torn spines and plastic covers for protection. I met another girl, Janelle Faunce, who was a year older and also worked as a page.
I told Janelle about my mission to read all of the Classics by age thirty-five. She told me she read at least a book-if not tow-a night, preferring mysteries and sci-fi and thrillers. When the elderly librarian women weren’t looking, we’d sit in the stacks and explore the rows of books and shared suggestions for what to read next. One of my best finds? Isaac Asimov’s three Understanding Physics volumes: Motion, Sound & Heat; Light, Magnetism & Electricity; and The Electron, Proton & Neutron.
Janelle and I took to giggling a lot, which didn’t sit well in the near-silent atmosphere, and the urge to control ourselves seemed to make it all the more worse.
Before long, Janelle and I had memorized the Dewey Decimal System and could direct a visitor to just the title he or she wanted to find. We made it a bit of a head game, directive the visitor not just to, let’s say, the 720s for architecture, but to 726 for “buildings for religious purposes” or 729 for “design and decoration.” I’m not sure if our motive was to commit the System to memory or to get a rise out of the people asking the questions.
Mrs. Paltz, the head librarian, had one firm rule. If there were no library patrons in need of help, no books to shelve or repair, we could sit at the checkout desk and read. Janelle and I had begun to spend more time sitting on the tall swivel stools behind this high desk, ready to slip a checkout card out of the pockets in the back of the books and use our rubber stamp and red ink pad to mark the next due dates. We made quick work of some of our duties so as to make more free time to read.
The librarians had a shelf of books on hold, typically bestsellers that people had called in about, and we’d promised to save. The callers were often tardy about coming to collect their titles, providing a gold mine for Janelle and me. We took to reading current titles and The New York Times’s bestsellers-Chaim Potok’s The Promise, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, Daphne du Maurier’s The House on the Strand. Much as I loved reading these books in waiting, I began to wonder if I might get sidetracked from my mission to finish the Classics. But that didn’t stop me. I kept on reading.
For two years, I cut through the Wilsons’s yard, first three days a week, and then five. My pay rate rose from ninety cents to a dollar twenty-five. During the summer leading up to eleventh grade, I took on more responsibility. Mrs. Paltz sent me down to the lower floor to man the children’s library. My duties continued as before, except for one addition. I ran the summer reading program for the kids. I read over our visiting children’s book summaries, written in their individual blue books, listened to them tell me about their favorite parts of a book and why they liked or disliked what they’d read. My keenest memory, however, had to do with applying the reading-when not working rule from the floor above.
Although my parents had always told me stories and read to me, as a child, before bed every night, they, of course, had run out of time to cover some beloved tales. Sitting in the quiet of the library now, I discovered titles previously unknown to me. I read Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, and Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. I took on the understanding that growing out of childhood and putting away a child’s story did not necessarily go hand in hand. I couldn’t get enough.