By Nancy Price, Volunteer
Part I – The Early Days
Although its footprint is small, it is quite a grand edifice. The medieval looking facade with soaring bullet shaped windows piercing its stone enclosure belies the fact that it was built in1947 as a library to serve the small neighborhood community of Auburndale, a village in the city of Newton, MA.
For all of my son’s childhood, the Auburndale Library was an integral part of our little village. A Saturday ritual was to bundle Greg in his stroller and walk down to the library, grab a cup of coffee from the corner bakery and ensconce ourselves in the children’s room. The building was literally humming as the young children dashed around eagerly selecting picture books and flopping on the oversized pillow cushions awaiting their parents to read aloud their selections. In our house we were continually the temporary guardians for at least 20 to25 borrowed books – including some of my personal favorites – “Where the Wild Things Are”, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Mr. Tickle”
My son felt so welcome and comfortable in that library that on one visit as he burst through the library doors and planted himself in front of the librarian’s desk, he loudly and proudly gave a rousing rendition of his newly learned ABC’s. The whole library erupted in applause.
Then one day the library doors closed. In 2008, the city of Newton said that it would have to close several branch libraries if a property tax override was not passed. Naively many of us thought that the city would never follow through and actually close a library, especially one such as ours that over time had become the heart of our little village. The override did not pass and the Auburndale Library was closed. As the days and months passed the shuttered library fell deeper and deeper into neglect – it was like witnessing the decline of a dear friend – the unmanicured gardens, the overgrown shrubs resembling the wild graying tresses of an aging, slightly demented grand dame, and the once imposing windows cataracted with grime. The whole building seemed to sag with a sorrowful forlornness.
And then something wondrous happened. A small group of determined people who lived in the village of Auburndale could no longer watch the decline of this once proud building. “We will open this library again”, they said. “We are not sure how it will be done – but we are sure we will succeed”. After forming a governing body the group worked countless hours to create both a strategic and an operating plan. They then conducted numerous negotiations with the city, solicited donations from local businesses and people in the community, formed a band of volunteers and opened the doors of the newly renamed Auburndale Community Library 1 year after it was closed.
After I retired, I became a volunteer. At this point the library had been operating all-volunteer for about 5 years – opening 3 days a week for 5 hours each day. I was told that not once did the library have to close because they could not cover a shift. What an amazingly committed group of people, I thought to myself. I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of this team. I also wanted to give back to this lovely building that was quieted for too long because it gave so much joy my son and me during his young years.
Part II – Rebirth
Now as you enter the ACL you will witness any number of activities that have one by one, day by day, resuscitated our library and resurrected its soul.
A multi-generational Knit-A-Long club meets Saturday mornings on our worn, yet still comfortable couches and armchairs. I have seen as much weaving together of friendships as I have of scarfs, sweaters and hats. On Tuesday mornings ACL Story Time & Crafts Session hosts neighborhood toddlers and pre-school children. It is one of my favorite times to volunteer. Some of the children are so out-of-their-minds excited to get to the children’s room that they literally burst through the door, ripping off their hats and jackets, barely containing their need to get to their beloved books. A sight to warm a book lover’s heart.
Many library activities are initiated by our patrons. A group of parents whose native language is Chinese asked the library if they could host a Storytime in Chinese to help their children maintain fluency in the language as well as to invite other children who may want to pick up a few words of Chinese. What a safe and exciting way for a young person to be introduced to a second language.
For older teens, the ACL has become the gathering place on Saturday mornings for a Minecraft Club –a popular computer game where you (dig) mine and build (craft) different kinds of 3D blocks within a large world of varying terrains. A sort of computerized Legos. So nice to see adolescent boys (mostly) in a library on a weekend – and judging by the impassioned cheers and groans emanating from the group – they have a wonderful time. A precursor to the Minecraft Club is the Magic Club which is the longest running club at the library and was started specifically to target 3rd and 4th graders in order to introduce them to the library at an early age. It has become a rite of passage in the neighborhood to have belonged to this inaugural group.
One day, The ACL sponsored a Community Book Group. We stockpiled many copies of “Just Mercy – A Story of Justice and Redemption”” by Brian Stevenson. It is a book about his experiences as a young lawyer defending the poor, mostly black and wrongly condemned and is a searing indictment of the American criminal justice system. I was lucky enough to be volunteering during part of the discussion. Members of the group included members of Newton’s League of Women Voters, members of the clergy, some local aldermen and about 25 neighbors. The facilitator was the retired Judge Gordon Martin who had fought for voting rights in Mississippi in the 60’s. Now that is what I call a stellar book group resulting in a deep, at times difficult – but necessary – discussion of race in America.
Our library also hosted a local Newton Nomadic Theater Group who stages short and compelling plays in varying intimate venues in the area. It has been a huge success and offers our village an opportunity for outstanding theater right in their own neighborhood. And we are not just about feeding the mind at our little library – to highlight our cook book collection, The ACL has hosted a number Cook Book Pot Luck events that have become so popular that the library will now continue to feed our bellies as well as our souls.
Part III – Why I Volunteer
In addition to the more formally scheduled events and activities that have invigorated our library, the ACL facilitates connections between people from all walks of life simply because they love books and libraries. Here are some moments that have touched my heart and that I shall always hold dear.
Our friendly mail carrier is greeted by a library volunteer who may suggest the latest Stephen King or James Patterson book. He delivers our mail and leaves with his favorite author’s latest novel – what a wonderful literary “quid pro quo”! One day I was on the desk when a woman came in to return Atul Gawande’s latest book “Being Mortal”. Because my view of dying was profoundly impacted by this book I asked her how she liked it. It turned out she was a nurse and had a lot to say on the subject. And even though we were strangers, we proceeded to have a very intimate conversation about how important it was for us to be fully “living while dying” as we one day faced our last days. I never learned her name but that day she was no longer a stranger to me.
One day when it wasn’t busy a young woman entered the library and asked if there was a computer she could use. I directed her to our far-from-cutting-edge computer where she spent several minutes online. When she asked if she could print I apologetically explained that we did not have that capability. I asked her what she was researching and she said that she wanted to go to school, probably a community college to start. “What field of study are you interested in?” I asked, my human resources background kicking in. That was when I discovered that she was not really sure. We proceeded to talk about what interested her or what her dream job might be. We worked our way toward her discovering that she loved children and wanted to work with them. I told her that I would do a search on my computer at home and bring in a list of schools offering programs in early childhood education. Well, you would have thought I was going to hand her a Publisher’s Clearing House check – that’s how grateful she was. And I remember thinking how such a small gesture could have a disproportionately large – in my mind – impact. The next time I saw her, she could hardly contain her excitement and her eyes just sparkled as she proudly told me that she had applied to several schools and is expected to start a 2 year program at a local community college. I will always carry that story in my heart because it reminds me that the smallest kindnesses can have profound and potentially life altering impacts.
One of our library volunteers recently turned 90. To mark this occasion, a group of fellow volunteers arranged a surprise birthday for her during her Tuesday morning shift. Once the celebration table was set with 2 beautiful cakes, one with an iced replica of a book (of course!), a lovely bouquet of flowers and our cards, we called her out to the front of the library. She was not half way to the table before her tears began to fall as she was genuinely taken aback that her co-workers would want to help her celebrate her birthday. But the story gets even better. As we were enjoying our birthday cake, the children’s craft hour was happening in the next room. And we all know kids have advanced radar for detecting anything involving chocolate cake and presents so they quickly surmised there was a birthday celebration going on. Without delay and with unanimous agreement these preschoolers quickly abandoned their leader’s craft project for the morning because they wanted to make birthday cards for the “lady in the other room.” As an aside – because it was near Halloween, many of the youngsters had come to the library in their trick or treat costumes that day. In no time, out paraded miniature pink and purple tulled fairy princesses, wands a sparkling, tiaras slightly askew – interspersed with an assortment of costumed supermen, spidermen and a stray batmen or two – on a mission to offer their hastily made but no less precious construction paper cards. I am sure the birthday lady has been feted in much grander style over her years but I am certain that this has to be one of her most memorable observances.
Part IV – Our Beloved Patrons, Friends & Volunteers
The story of the revival of the “The Little Library That Could” has touched the hearts, souls, hands and wallets of many in our community. One day a volunteer found a $200 Barnes and Noble gift card that someone had left in the book drop – with the intent of adding to our best seller collection. We were astonished and grateful to receive an unsolicited $750 grant from a local charitable trust for the library’s unrestricted use. And during a recent and first capital drive, our patrons were amazingly generous.
In addition to the monetary contributions, many friends, patrons and neighbors lovingly donate their time and talents. To earn a badge, a local Boy Scout troop did a nearly complete refurbishing of the library last summer. Our furniture is now refinished and it just shines, our lights sparkle our newly built book displays were quickly filled. A local teen gifted a hand-crafted, intricately carved wood print of our little library. He said that a few years ago he was one of the Magic Club kids and wanted to give something back because his times at the library brought him so much happiness. A local Lasell College student did an internship at our library. She created clear and readable signage for our collections and no one was sorry to see our handwritten post it notes go! For years The Auburndale Garden club lovingly tended to the outside of our library – brings the grounds back to life every Spring and nurturing the flora and fauna through the Fall. The Auburndale Garden Club dissolved in 2010 and now a group of gardening-loving volunteers provides our patrons with bursts of color and the luscious smell of blooming flowers. As a parting gift the Auburndale Gardening club donated a garden bird bath that you will see on the grounds. And if you look closely as you navigate the walkway to the front door, you will see among the shrubs and flowers a garden of brightly painted rocks made by the children that read “library” “books this way” and “read” next to yarn and sparkly ribbon encased branches beckoning you along the way.
The story of the revival of the ACL is one I love to share. Countless times I have watched the faces of people change from mere interest to enchantment and they exit the library with a big smile on their faces and a “feel good” sentiment in their hearts. I find many parallels between the ACL story and the 1930’s book “The Little Engine That Could” written to teach children the value of optimism and hard work. In the book a stranded train is unable to find an engine willing to take it over difficult terrain to its destination. Luckily, the Auburndale community with each library lover contributing in their own special and unique ways is the engine that has made the ACL once again the heart of our village.