A love letter to libraries


Published: 7/21/2020 3:22:00 PM

This sounds like, and it is, a My Turn column. But even more than that it is a love letter to our public libraries in the time of COVID-19. I am a resident of Shelburne Falls and for almost eight years my library has been the Arms Library. Before that it was the Jones and Munson libraries in Amherst and the Forbes in Northampton and the Goshen Library and back and back all the way to the public library of my childhood in Chicopee.  One of my joys has been getting library cards at the Arms Library for my grandchildren and watching them dive into reading.

Libraries have been my milk and my meat, my strength and my hope, my joy, and my inspiration for my lifetime. The Arms Library with its unique architectural design (from the outside the shape looks like an open book with the spine being the door) and the dedicated and faithful librarians and other volunteers stand in and act as the center of our town.  

That is, until COVID-19; when the Arms and the rest of the libraries in our country had to shut their doors and keep the books and us safe and sound, so we would not be sources of or recipients of infection. 

The truth is that in the past few months my ability to read a full-length book has been compromised. Not because the libraries are closed but because my mind has been heavy with grief which has made such concentration hard to bear. I understood that it was not a great thing for the libraries to be shuttling books back and forth between us all and in some weird way I was okay with it. At least I thought I was. I couldn’t even read during this time so the shut library while sad seemed tolerable. 

Until this week when I got my first notification in four months from my library telling me that two books that I had requested were now in, and if I walked downtown and knocked on the big beautiful door that an actual librarian would come to the door and bring the books to me. We would of course both wear face coverings. The books would be sanitized. I could not enter the library. 

When I got this message, I started laughing and crying. I was over the moon glad to put on my shoes and walk to the library. It was as though my dear departed mother had called me up on the phone and said she would meet me downtown at the library. It was then that I knew that the COIVD-19 grief that so many of have been feeling for so many months had been eating up my need for books, for library conversations, for literature and poetry and for Life with a capital L. When I got to the door, I babbled some kind of a thank you, but I don’t think the librarian knew what I was trying to express. Or maybe she did, and she was being kind to me, blubbering on the steps. 

And so here is the love letter part. Dear Librarians and Libraries, all of you — thank you for what you mean to me and to our communities — for all that you have given us over the years and for how you have persevered to stay safe and alive even during this time until it was safe for you to open (even partially) to the public. You make me stronger and more curious, more hopeful, and more connected, and part of a bigger world. Without you open I have been existing fine but not fully living. Thank you for all that you are and all that you do. I had no idea how important you were until you had to close the door and then, cautiously, you found a way to open it again. Love, Marguerite 

The Rev. Marguerite Sheehan is a resident of Shelburne Falls.


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