A library is a calm and quiet place. Stacks of books stand pressed together, tall, straight, and still. The Stone Ridge Library is just that. Housed in two old buildings built in 1798 and 1811. The library appears strong, motionless and silent. And yet, the building is brimming with vitality.
Winding through the rooms, patrons talk in hushed tones, or studiously work at table tops. Pages rustle as they read. It is a place of quiet concentration. Through the stacks of novels, old and new, and among the shelves, everything is quiet and still, and yet these books are teeming with information. I imagine the voices of the characters buried within–words on every page speaking simultaneously. What a cacophony of voices, all bursting to tell their stories. When I open the books, these characters gambol through my imagination and the library becomes a chaos of activity, buzzing with movement and commotion. How can anyone concentrate? Yet patrons rest in overstuffed chairs with newspapers, focused intently, quietly, set to draw forth the information within. All around I envision the spectacle of inspiration clamoring between the covers of the books stacked neatly on the shelves.
Twice a week, in the very back of the library, we prepare the after-school story hour to welcome its participants. The chairs are lined in quiet rows. The day’s books are stacked silently, waiting to be opened. Snacks are set in cups arranged for retrieval. In the craft room paper, pencils, markers, and glue are set out in anticipation of what they will become. The room is tranquil and still.
The school bus arrives at 3:30pm and the children tumble off into a line. Their potential energy vibrates with anticipation. I tell them “walk quietly,” and, with clomping boots, shuffling feet, chattering voices, and rustling bags, we parade past the front desk, the tables, the shelves of DVDs, the quiet patrons, the novels and new releases, through the young adult section, until we finally arrive at the children’s room. We are trying, sort of, to be quiet but we are not stealthy. I hope that the studious patrons can appreciate the moment of disruption from their quiet contemplation as we march to the back of the building.
Once we arrive, backpacks and coats are shed, snacks are procured, and the children sit in the chairs, unwinding from their day in chatter and laughter. These are sounds of the library that I love. Even while I read to the children, we laugh and respond. All the quiet has been banished to the corners, replaced by lively enthusiasm and bumptious energy. I am not sure if our commotion is appreciated by the rest of the library, but we are in the back, we have our space, and our time together is limited. In our hour together, I hope to instill a love of this space. To build memories, and feelings of happiness and enthusiasm. That’s the goal. These children will become future patrons. The adult novels understand this, too. They anticipate the day when these children will open their covers and release their narratives. But for now, these young readers are relegated to the children’s area.
After all the reading and activities have concluded for the day, and the parents have picked up their children, the room sighs. Chairs are askew and crumbs coat the floor. Discarded markers and crumpled paper rest on the tables. Now the quiet creeps back from the corners and washes through the room. We clean and straighten and re-establish order. The library settles back to its routine, relaxing after its infusion of energy. As I leave for the evening, I quietly smile at the adult novels. Soon these children will be yours, but for now they belong to the children’s room. If I listen carefully, I think I can hear them quietly cheer.