Stories from Belleville Public Library

“I never thought about coming to the library to look for a job.”

Well, what first brought me to the library was that I needed a quick copy for something. We moved out here…oh, at the end of the month it’ll be seventeen years. And I hadn’t been in a library since back in the seventies when I was going to college! But the local Xerox machine was here in the library, so I was here for that.

The first time that I really extensively used the library was back in the summer of 2012. I found myself unemployed after how many years, and they no longer put the ads and stuff in the paper so much anymore, it’s all online. I was talking to my best girlfriend, and she said, “Bonnie, just go down to the library. You can get a free Gmail account down there, and search online,” – she gave me a couple of ideas as far as the websites. And I said, what the heck? Let’s give it a try! I would come here almost on a daily basis to check my email, etc. and even posted my resume on the job sites. Everybody was so helpful and as far as, “OK, now how do I post my resume?” ‘Cause you know, I’m not real computer-savvy. I redid it, and printed it, and then was able to put it on the job sites. And it took me…well, three or four months, something like that, to find a job.

And then I had picked up another job only by word-of-mouth, not through a library search, and I had an accident at work. I had to have like 10 days off for my hand to heal, and that was part of my decision to leave that job, because no one was really concerned, and I was just very disgusted with the job generally. So, I spent most of the 10 days down here actually, back on the websites. And I have now had the same perfect job for seven months. So it worked out very, very well. It’s amazing what you can do with a computer. Most of my computer background had been work-related, you know their own little websites for purchasing as well as messaging and training, and I don’t have a computer at home. I never thought about coming to the library to look for a job! Very pleased. I still stop by and say hi to Deb. We formed a relationship during all those months of job searching. Now I’ll be in at the post office, and I’ll think, “Well, I’ll see what Deb’s doing, see if she’s in…” and I’ll pop in and say hi, or run into her at the grocery store.

"How could anybody exist without a library?"

I was pretty much staying at home after my husband died, until I joined the writers group. Now I have this whole other life – or two or three. I’m enjoying it so much, and really it’s changed my life, because of the people I’ve met in the group. When people write, they reveal so much of themselves, it really becomes a close group.

I always wonder what people do, who perhaps don’t move into a church for any reason. Where do they start? I would definitely suggest they go to a library and hang around. If you go to a new town, just get a library card, and hang around the library a while, and you’ll be all set. It’s a social place. I meet people that I never see otherwise, and I meet new people, too. Somebody that I just fell into conversation with, it turned out we had a lot in common and we ended up new friends.

But I’m a terrible curse on the library. I have this unreasonably awful laptop computer that just demands patience I don’t have, knowledge I don’t have, internet I don’t have, and things are going wrong constantly. I feel very embarrassed that I use the library so much for help with the recalcitrant laptop, but I don’t know where else to turn. The fact that the library educates me for the new tech world is just a gift from God. It’s wonderful.

Also, the books! I probably read four or five a month. I always have two or three going. It’s a revolving collection. If I didn’t have the library to get them, I don’t know what I’d do. How could anybody exist without a library? I mean, who’s got all the money?

For 18 years, I lived in South America, Bolivia and then in Chile the last three years. I loved the experience, everything about it. But I hated the fact that there were no libraries. In Bolivia, there was a library – the National Library – only a block away, but you had to have special permission to go in, and no one was permitted to check anything out. So I suffered for years, not having enough to read. I joined a book club that North Americans had organized. Each of us bought two books from the list provided, and once a month we got together to exchange books. But I always finished reading them long before the month was over.

“A building is a building, but people are what makes it real, what makes it pleasant or useful and helpful. [The library] is a good place to be.”

I enjoy local libraries. I’m constantly bringing things home – for myself and my wife. There’s almost always something from the library in our home, whether it’s a book or a DVD or whatever. I like to read and research things. Nowadays it seems like most of my research takes place online. I don’t have internet access at my home, which is a couple of blocks from the library, so I come here most Fridays and Saturdays to keep up with correspondence – family, organizations and projects, and so on. It’s a pleasant place to visit. People are generally friendly and everything is nice here. I used to work in a library as a custodian in a small town, and that library is on the Register of Historic Buildings, so it was very cool from that standpoint – a lot of beautiful masonry and wonderful arches, original woodwork, the stairways were beautiful carved wood…it was really nice. But I mean, a building is a building, but people are what makes it real, what makes it pleasant or useful and helpful. This is a good place to be.

“It’s been healing, and it’s been empowering…”

I guess you could say I founded the writers group. I’ve always enjoyed the book discussion group, and one day I asked if there’s ever been one for writers, and that was the beginning. I’m working on a memoir. That’s been rather healing for me. Some of it…well, I have an interesting story. I have five children – one biological and four adopted, one of whom was extremely traumatized, and it changed my whole life, changed all our lives. So part of it is about that. It’s been healing, and it’s been empowering, because I think, “Do I really share this or not?” As I get more comfortable with the group, I share more – even outside of the group. I’m braver about saying, well, this is how it is. The group gave me that. When you just put something out there – like if you’d write it on Facebook – you get some response, maybe, or no response. But if you’re in the room with people, and they’ve had two whole weeks to read it, then we talk about it. And it’s good to hear everyone’s comments. We just get to know each other better. That’s why we’re so friendly! We’ve shared so much!

"Without [the library], I don't know how our teachers would have managed."

Fine-free teacher cards are huge. With the comprehensive literacy model, every lesson in the school is based around books – whether it’s science, social studies, reading, writing. Teachers are always looking for a great “mentor text” that can catapult their lesson. You have to have a great book. With our school library being the size that it is, I might have one or two copies of a text, but with four teachers doing the same unit at the same time, we might need eight. Beyond that, when the students have their free choice read, they want a wide variety of books on the topic that they’re learning. They’re making connections to what they’re learning about, and they think it’s cool. Especially the little ones, they’re just like, “Oh my god! Remember we just talked about this? Here it is!” And the teacher’s heart swells…”You get it!” Having the whole South Central Library System to pull from has been very powerful. Without it, I don’t know how our teachers would have managed.

“The first time I came into town I came and got my library card.”

When I was a freshman we moved from Brooklyn to a farm south of Dayton, and I think probably the first time I came into town I came and got my library card. I had had a card in Brooklyn – they don’t have a library anymore in Brooklyn – and I read every Bobbsey Twin book that was ever written. That’s where I began.

The library here was the old building, in Library Park, up those stairs, those rickety stairs. It wasn’t open every day, but I know it was Wednesday nights and I think Saturday nights. Possibly some daytime hours, but being from the farm you could really only generally come in Wednesday night or Saturday night. When I got a teaching license and taught in Attica. The librarian and I worked out a plan that I could bring students in every two weeks so they could check out books – because at the rural school there wasn’t a very big library. We didn’t have that many kids either! The school clerk and I packed ‘em in two cars and came and got books.

And then later on in the years I moved into town and was appointed to the library board, was Treasurer of the library, and at that time that meant that I paid the bills, including the payroll and so on. But it was always fun. On December 31st I’d come in and knock on wood, and every year it balanced to a penny. I think I skipped all the way home, just so happy. I helped organize the first Friends of the Library. We had a quilt raffle and we tried to have some activities, but you know, as things go in cycles, people moved away, and got older, and it kind of fizzled out. But now it’s reborn again. I worked here for 10 years after I retired from teaching.

And now I volunteer at the Senior Center, which for a while there was just across the hallway. That’s actually how I got started. The director there said one morning, “We need a Meals on Wheels driver. Can you work it?” And I didn’t work in the library Wednesday mornings. It’s surprising, amazing how many connections you form. One of the current library board members, when her daughter was little she saw me on the street. And it was a shock that I wasn’t in the library, so she yelled, “There’s Library Bob!” That’s how I got my nickname. My feelings about the library…warm and fuzzy. And it’s exciting to think what you might find there. It’s a friendly place. I look forward to coming to the library.

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