Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My library reminiscences

by Rick Blechta

I hope you’ve enjoyed Sybil’s and now Aline’s memories about libraries as much as I have. Judging by the number of people who’ve read them, it seems there’s a real interest — so here goes mine!

I grew up in a small(ish) town in Westchester County, which is just north of the Bronx in New York City. Mamaroneck is right on the Long Island Sound and has a very large pleasure boat harbour. In days past, it was locally nicknamed Clam Town because of the large tidal mud flats. As the 20th Century went on, that mud became more polluted, and when I was growing up, a put-down we often used was, “You smell like low tide.” But I digress…

The Mamaroneck Library adult reading room as it is today.
Mamaroneck has a lovely library, carefully added on to over the years, but it retains its original reading room which has large murals depicting local history all around it. The children’s library was in the basement, and I spent a lot of time there, not just selecting adventure books to sign out, but doing research for school.

It was run by a short, slender, but very imposing woman named Miss Bauman. All us kids were terrified of her because she ruled the room with (as we viewed it) an iron fist. If you took a book off the shelf, you’d better darn well sign it out or put it back in the correct spot. No leaving of books on her tables! Near silence was the word of the day, too. Only low whispering was allowed.

When I had the temerity of a ten-year-old to question why the adults left books on their tables upstairs, she snapped, “I don’t care what they do upstairs. You children need to be taught how to be tidy!” (Or words to that effect.)

What we didn’t realize at the time is that she was teaching us any number of useful things: how to use a card catalogue, how the Dewey Decimal System worked, why it was important to put things back where they belong so that they can be found easily again because they’re where they’re supposed to be. I could go on. I only realized later that she was patience personified when she was showing us “library things” and only became short when we didn’t follow her (sensible) rules.

Miss Bauman in 1971.
I’ve talked to a number of other friends who I remember from those library days. Our memories are the same: a velvet hand in an iron glove. But Miss Bauman is remembered fondly by us all  — especially me.

You see, a dozen years later, she became my brother’s de facto mother-in-law. Miriam (as I now knew her, although I couldn’t always break the “Miss Bauman” habit) brought up two of her nieces, one of whom my brother wed. She and I would often laugh about things that had happened in that basement room. Her memory of me was as “someone I always had to shush.”

I still love libraries. When I was on the road as a musician in my 20s, I would search out the library in whatever town we were playing in for the week and spend my days there, either reading books I found or something I’d brought from home. It was a lot more pleasant than sitting in a hotel room watching TV or sitting in the hotel bar drinking all day (or worse).

We have a beautiful and grand law library here in Toronto (in Osgoode Hall) and it’s generally empty. It’s also open to the public (when it’s not filled with lawyers studying for bar exams), something that’s not generally known. I wrote a large portion of my about-to-be-released novella, Rundown, there. In fact, Osgoode Hall is even in the book.

So thank you, Miss Bauman, for showing me the ropes and making me a life-long library aficionado.


Completely off topic but still very interesting: Miriam Bauman started off in the ’30s as a teacher/librarian in one of the local grade schools. She often told the story of taking her class out onto the field to watch the Hindenburg float majestically overhead on May 6, 1937, only a few hours before her fateful crash in New Jersey.

Interesting sidebar #2: My very good childhood friend (also my brother’s best man), Len Tallevi is now the president of the Mamaroneck Library’s Board of Trustees.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to lawyer Henry Gluch for introducing me to the Osgoode Hall Law Library.

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