Libraries as a tourist destination

  • “Public Libraries in Western Massachusetts: A Photographic Essay.” Contributed photo/Carlos Heiligmann

  • The Shelburne Free Public Library in Shelburne Center. Contributed photo/Carlos Heiligmann

  • Local library Contributed photo/Carlos Heiligmann—

  • Local library Contributed photo/Carlos Heiligmann—

  • Carlos Heiligmann at Robertson Memorial Library in Leyden. Contributed photo/Carlos Heiligmann

  • A display of Carlos Heiligmann's photographs will be on display at Mocha Maya's Coffee House in Shelburne Falls through Dec. 29. Contributed photo/Carlos Heiligmann—

  • A display of Carlos Heiligmann’s photographs will be on display at Mocha Maya's in Shelburne Falls through Dec. 29. Contributed photo/Carlos Heiligmann

For the Recorder
Published: 12/23/2019 8:56:54 AM

Few people can combine public service with a sense of fun and wonder. Carlos and Kathy Heiligmann, of Rowe, are exceptions to that rule.

The Heiligmanns recently published “Public Libraries in Western Massachusetts: A Photographic Essay” through their own press, Dindsenchas Books. The book is a tribute to the community, not a profit-making enterprise.

It shares more than 300 color photographs Carlos Heiligmann took over a period of five years. As the title indicates, his subject matter is public libraries in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties. (He throws in a few Worcester County libraries for good measure.)

The book was edited by his wife, Kathy Heiligmann, who also contributed useful essays, including a discussion of the history of libraries in this part of the state.

About the journey that led to the book, Kathy Heiligmann explained that it began with an ongoing project of her own, a history of Franklin County libraries. Her husband has always documented his life and travels through photographs.

“I started taking pictures as a teenager in Mexico City, where I was born, with my old Brownie camera,” he said. “When I joined the U.S. Air Force, I took pictures everywhere I went. I met Kathy … and I kept on taking pictures.”

It seemed natural to the two that he would accompany her on her research trips and document the libraries they visited. Soon, they began traveling farther afield.

The photographs took on new life after Kathy Heiligmann contacted the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s archives to ask whether they had vintage photographs of the libraries she was studying.

To thank the archivists for their help, she sent them a copy of a calendar of library photographs the Heiligmanns had designed for friends. The archivists appreciated the calendar and established an archive of Carlos Heiligmann’s work.

The Heiligmanns produced a book of the photographs for their own use and eventually decided to share it with the general public.

“It has really expanded,” Kathy Heiligmann said of the project.

Because it is published in small runs and features high-quality paper and color images, “Public Libraries in Western Massachusetts” is costly. It retails for $85.

“The path that we took is to make it available to people through libraries. Some libraries have bought it. Others have patrons that have bought it for the towns. It’s also available (via interlibrary loan) through CW MARS,” noted Kathy Heiligmann.

“We encourage people to go to their local library or go on to CW MARS (online),” she added. If people want to buy the book, however, they can purchase it by emailing the Heiligmanns at

Why libraries?

“We both always liked libraries,” Kathy Heiligmann stated. “I grew up in Groton, Conn., and I spent a lot of my time as a child in libraries. … After taking a few pictures of libraries for the book, we discovered how much fun it was to visit them. We took the old car, packed a picnic lunch, and started to visit libraries in western Franklin County.”

“The old car” is a 1947 DeSoto that is clearly Carlos Heiligmann’s pride and joy.

“My father bought it new in Mexico City in 1947,” he recalled. He explained that he grew to love the car as a teenager because it could hold so many of his friends.

The automobile moved to the United States with him and in fact more or less introduced him to the woman who would become his wife; she lived in an apartment above the garage in which the car was stored at the University of Oklahoma.

Carlos Heiligmann maintains the DeSoto and an elderly Jeep himself, and savors taking trips in the old car. The couple enjoyed their jaunts throughout the countryside to do research.

“It’s fun to learn about parts of the state you hear about on the evening weather forecast,” Kathy Heiligmann said with a smile.

“Massachusetts has so many beautiful roads and so many beautiful towns,” her husband chimed in.

They hope their book will encourage readers to view the libraries of our area as tourist destinations.

“So many people visit this section of Massachusetts,” Kathy Heiligmann noted. “They’re thumbing through the guidebook looking for the obvious. … These local libraries have so much to offer.”

Their research has brought them to so many libraries that “It’s hard to pick” a favorite, sighed Kathy Heiligmann. “They all have unique qualities, either in the architecture or in their history. … And it has been so much fun meeting all the librarians.”

“Public Libraries in Western Massachusetts” is available on loan from many local libraries and CW MARS. Many of Carlos Heiligmann’s photographs may be viewed at the University of Massachusetts archives (

Selected photographs of libraries will also be on display at Mocha Maya’s in Shelburne Falls through Dec. 29.

The couple’s next joint project will be a book titled “M/V Bella Desgagnés: Queen of the St. Lawrence,” to be issued in 2020. The first volume of Kathy Heiligmann’s library-history project will also come out next year.

Clearly, the Heiligmanns don’t sit still very much. Neither does their beloved DeSoto.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website,


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