Johns: In Praise of Small Libraries | Columns

David johns

Photo courtesy David Johns


I spent a lot of my evenings after school at the Greentown branch library. I really don’t remember how it started or why I gravitated there; there was no formal program, no academic intervention, no sensitization to poor neighborhood children; but, for some reason, the library is where I wanted to go out.

Greentown is a few miles from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Interstate 77, and close enough to Akron-Canton Airport that we could smell the smoke from the wreckage when New Yankee catcher Thurman Munson, crashed his Cessna Citation there in August 1979.

You could see the library from my playground. It was tiny, only a few hundred square feet, a single reading room with shelves along the walls and a few freestanding crates full of newspapers, books, and magazines. Most importantly, I could walk there in less than ten minutes.

Of course, I understand why my parents allowed me to spend countless hours there every week – one less restless child running around the house! But I don’t know why Jean Shelly, the fiercely disciplined and terribly severe librarian, put up with me. But she did. In fact, she was kind to me, even motherly, keeping a table always ready for me to lay out all the materials I was exploring.

She pointed out things to me that interested me, then things that interested me: Al Unser, the Indianapolis 500, magic tricks and biographies of Harry Houdini, stories about the Buddha, maps of the world, castles, articles on Japan. And mysteries, lots of mysteries like the Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes, and especially Ellery Queen, whose ‘Mystery Magazine’ was the very first subscription I had in my name.

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