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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Libraries and Bookstores

Aripeka, Florida, a sport fishing community since the 1930’s and a fishing village possibly as long as a thousand years ago, straddles the county line between Hernando County to the north and Pasco to the south. The post office and Baptist church are south of the line and both bridges over Hammock Creek, while Carl Norfleet’s store is north of the line and between the two bridges, leaving only the Community Club, a nursery business, and the Chief Aripeka RV Park not only north of the county line and creek but way down a narrow, winding road through the sawgrass from the rest of the village.

All that, besides being part of a partial description of this place, is to say once again that we have been staying, technically speaking, in Hernando County, which also contains Weeki Wachee, the place we stayed during our last Florida getaway, three years back, and so it seemed only natural for me to renew my membership in the Hernando County library system and to get back in the groove of going to the West Hernando branch there in Weeki Wachee. It’s familiar, my “home” library in Florida, and I feel comfortable there. The availability of shady parking places (for Sarah) is important, too. The other Spring Hill branch, a larger library, was landscaped in such a way that none of the trees cast shade on the parking lot, and it’s too far to drive to the main library in Brooksville, the county seat, on a regular basis.

More recently, however, we’ve begun an acquaintance with the Pasco County library system. We began with the Friends of New Port Richey Library used book sale. The sale was smaller than we’d anticipated, but the people were friendly, and the sale was held outdoors (in the shade) between the library and City Hall, down the street from Christina’s Family Restaurant, where we breakfasted beforehand on homemade bagels fresh from the oven, so it was an all-round satisfying event for us. Now finally, on the recommendation of Carl Norfleet here in Aripeka, we have found our way to the library in Hudson—not an obvious destination, as Hudson is not really a “place” these days, except on the map. That is, there is no downtown, only an old cemetery at the northeast corner of the intersection of Hwy. 19 and Hudson Avenue, off the highway to the east a warren of medical offices and facilities and gated communities, with less pretentious neighborhoods lying between the highway and the Gulf. The library, though—wow!

First thing we noticed with approval were all the trees left standing in the parking area, providing many shady spaces. The architecture impressed David: he loved it immediately. As we were getting our bearings inside, I spotted a notice on the desk near the entrance offering translation services to anyone needing them. If my memory is correct on this, more than a dozen languages were listed. The children’s area looked very inviting and had its own circulation desk and librarians, and there was lots of comfortable seating throughout the building, even an area off the lobby with restrooms, drink machines and more comfortable chairs.

As a bookseller, I have never considered myself in competition with libraries (though I sometimes envy librarians their salaries and benefits), and as a reader I patronize both libraries and bookstores. When I’ve bought and enjoyed a book new to me, I’m likely to visit the library to look for other titles by the author. This accounts for all the Paula Fox works in my “Read in 2009” list. Or I may try out a new author first with a library book and then set out to buy more books by that author, as I have done with Walter Mosley and Farley Mowat. Other people probably approach libraries and bookstores differently, but I usually look on library shelves for something specific I’ve already got in mind, while I enter a bookstore as if it’s a potluck, a treasure trove, to be gleaned for wonderful surprises unknown to me before my hand touches the books.

When we go to independent bookstores, we always tell the owners that we have a bookstore, too. That’s not so much to elicit the offer of a discount (though dealers in used books usually offer this courtesy to one another) as it is to say, We know how it is. We know the joys and sorrows, perks and frustrations. We have a life like yours! Isn’t it great? It’s often an occasion to trade stories. In libraries I appreciate the convenience of wireless connections, David loves to browse magazines, and we both count on libraries as sources of practical local information, but our expectations of libraries are very different from our expectations of bookstores. We don’t expect to connect to anyone on a personal level in the library, whereas in a bookstore that same lack of connection makes the experience less than fully satisfying or meaningful, regardless of how many books we buy. For some people, would expectations of library vs. bookstore be just the opposite of ours?

When we visited Aripeka from Weeki Wachee three years ago, there was the beginning of a little volunteer-run library. It was officially open only one day a week, but if you went down the street and knocked on the librarian’s door—and if the librarian was home!--she would let you in at other times. There was no checkout system: patrons carried away the books they wanted and brought them back when they were done with them. This year there is no sign of life at the small cement-block building. I suppose that, like Carl, other Aripeka residents are in love with the big Hudson library and don’t see much reason to try to “compete” with it.

But wait! This story would not be complete without mention of the boxes outside Norfleet’s store. People leave things there: books, shoes, clothes, videos, grapefruits, oranges. You take what you can use. If you have something useful and don’t want to keep it in your life, you leave it in the box for someone else. It’s a simple system, and it’s all potluck (no special orders), but for what it is, it seems to work pretty well.

A note on my “Read in 2009” list: For a while I had the list set up to show only the ten most recently added books. Now it shows all titles. My rule for this list is that I have to have read the whole book before I can add it, so a couple mentioned in earlier posts, books I haven’t finished yet, aren’t yet listed.


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I love my local library. It's within walking distance, and Edward and I go there frequently. But, I'm a dedicated book buyer. I do miss the wonderful independent book stores we used to have here in my city, though. They are the best !

P. J. Grath said...

I hope my customers read and take your comment to heart, Pamela. I also hope my readers will enjoy linking to your site and reading about your dogs and the books you read.

Jeane said...

I love the idea of that box system. In the last county I lived in, there was a storefront like that- people would bring what they didn't want, and take what they needed off the shelves. The store kept afloat by selling some of the donated CDs, that's it. It was a bit far from my house though, so I never went. But I thought the concept very cool.

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, Bean! Yes, it's fun to leave things in the box and then go back and see what's already gone to a new home. "Someone took that tablecloth! My shoes are gone," etc.

Carl's store stays "afloat" literally, though high tide the other day was lapping at the edge of Osowaw Blvd. No kidding!