When I was a child walking home from the Sylva Elementary, I usually stopped at the little one-room library on the town’s main street (1942). It was here that I first noticed that the patrons of our library resembled churchgoers. They entered quietly. Often, they seemed to simply want a peaceful haven — a place where they could sit for a moment and think. When they left, they seemed relieved, as though they had accomplished their purpose.
In my childhood, the library “staff” consisted of a single entity — wonderful Sadie Luck, a vibrant, elderly lady who seemed to know everybody’s name.
“Well, Gary Carden!” she would say, beaming at me as her upper plate wobbled about. She seemed genuinely glad to see me! Then, she would whisper in my ear, “I’ve been saving something for you.” She would hand me any one of the hundreds of books that I came to love (I still do) — perhaps Eric Knight’s Lassie, Come Home or Mary O’Hara’s My Friend, Flicka. When I was older, it would be Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Steinbeck’s The Red Pony and Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. Sometimes, she would say, “I’ve got something for Agnes, your grandmother.” I especially remember John Fox’s Trail of the Lonesome Pine and Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley.
Nor was Sadie content to merely hand me a book; later we would discuss it. Yes, Sadie actually read her books! “What was your favorite part?” she would say. My appreciation for everything I read deepened when this friendly little woman encouraged me to think about the green light on Gatsby’s pier and Wolfe’s grief for his brother, Ben. More than any teacher, more than any relative, Sadie Luck influenced my love of literature. She read my themes for English class, reviewed my report cards and encouraged me to write.
It is important to remember that I was but one of the many who spent time under the guidance of Sadie Luck.
Her days were spent dispensing books, advice and encouragement to children and adults. In my mind’s eye, I see her bending to tie a boy’s shoelace or rummaging in her sweater pockets for a Kleenex to tend a child’s runny nose.
Obviously, both libraries and librarians have changed since the days of Sadie Luck. Equipped with computers, research archives, and an awesome array of magazines, newspapers, film (vhs and dvd), music and thousands of books, the modern equivalent of Sadie’s tiny domain requires the services of a large, multi-talented staff. If Sadie were here today, doubtless she would be perplexed and bewildered. What would she make of operations like finance, outreach, storytelling and children’s services, ordering, processing and cataloging?
Fontana Regional Library will soon announce a replacement for departing Michael Cartwright. Whoever replaces Cartwright will have a daunting responsibility: With inadequate space, a significant decline in library utilization, a controversial new facility site, and a 10-year fund-raising venture that appears stillborn, the new librarian has an impressive challenge.
I sincerely hope that the Fontana Regional Library is mindful of the fact that somewhere in the recent past, the Jackson County facility lost a vital part of its traditional character. What did it lose? For want of a better term, let’s call it “the spirit of Sadie Luck.” It was a benevolent Presence that made us feel welcome, and that assisted and guided us (and bid us return). Regardless of what administrative skills this being may possess, they most assuredly should love books and like people.
As soon as our new librarian arrives, I am confident that the citizens of Jackson County will perceive the “changing of the guard” as a “wake-up call.” Do you remember when going to the library was an exciting venture? I do. (It used to represent the total of my “social life.”) I remember entering the library with a sense of expectancy, awe and anticipated discovery — for the young at ,heart, libraries are magic. All of the available space is packed with books, music (unread and unheard) and they are there for us ... dispensed by a benevolent staff ... and now, perhaps once more offered in the radiant spirit of little Sadie Luck, who always said, “Gary, please come in!”
I haven’t been in the library in three years, but I’m ready to go back. Perhaps, when I enter the front door, I will hear Sadie Luck whisper, “Welcome home.”