Every once in a while, we are jarred into acknowledging how positive the role of government occasionally can be, even as we despair at its excesses, errors and sheer incompetence, especially at the state and national levels.
If you were on hand for the recent dedication of the addition and renovation of the Meekins Library in Williamsburg you witnessed anew what is possible through public effort, aided by private goading and a combination of taxpayer and non-public funds.
At the dedication, Edward Bertorelli, a member of the state Board of Library Commissioners, emphatically made the point about the importance of the state helping local communities renovate or replace their aging libraries. This at a time when the state is backing away from its promise of financial help in other sectors of civic life.
According to Bertorelli, since 1989, the state had funded some 150 library projects across the state, which, while not as dramatic as a new bridge, highway or school construction, is just as critical to the fabric of life in local cities and towns.
Close to home, these projects have included renovations to Forbes Library, new libraries in Leverett and Southampton, work on a new building in Sunderland, as well as plans for major renovations of Lilly Library in Florence and a new library in Belchertown.
In most communities there persists the unchallenged belief that a free public library is surely at the heart of what helps a democratic society function. How important is that? As commissioner Bertorelli said: ... efforts of some to undermine our nation will always fail so long as we have libraries like this providing free and open access to information.
It is also a truism that the politics of library construction can be ugly, witness the bruising struggle in Williamsburg to carry out its rejuvenation effort. I had my doubts about the appropriateness of the scale and cost of the addition/renovation effort during the often nasty town squabble, but in the end it is clear that what was achieved will pay dividends long into the future. It was visionary in an age of myopia.
Despite the Biblical rainstorm, the dedication ceremony was a great celebration. And, Ill travel a few miles up the street any time, any where to listen to Richard Wilbur read his poetry.
A short but sweet bookish road trip I took not long ago was to be on hand to honor recipients of the Massachusetts Book Awards and sponsored by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, now based at Hampshire College.
A few years ago, I had occasion to interview the centers director Sharon Shaloo when the organization was in its infancy, so it was encouraging to find this was now the third annual awards ceremony and this year held at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
There was a distinctly local flavor to the event: among the speakers were Greg Prince, president of Hampshire College; Ellen Dore Watson of the Smith College Poetry Center, who announced the winners of the poetry awards; and
Getting a lifetime achievement award was children's book author and illustrator Eric Carle. Making the presentation was State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst
state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, who presented a lifetime achievement medal to Eric Carle. The Northampton-based childrens book author and illustrator was extremely gracious in his acceptance saying: This award cheers me up, because his current work is giving him difficulty, and during sleepless night he feels that he has lost his talent, which cheered the rest of us who have our own worries.
Among those who served as judges for the awards were local book folks such as Madeleine Blais of the UMass journalism program and well-known author, Nat Herold of Amherst Books, Ellen Watson, and Linda Lajoie, of the Springfield Public Library.
|Roland Merullo of Williamsburg was the recipient of the non-fiction prize at the recent Massachusetts Book Awards ceremony
And among the award winners were Roland Merullo, who lives and writes in Williamsburg, for his non-fiction work: Revere Beach Elegy, a Memoir of Home and Beyond:; Mordicai Gerstein of Northampton, who was cited for his childrens book What Charlie Heard: and Mary Ruefle of Amherst for her volume of poetry titled Among the Musk Ox People.
For the 200 or so who were on hand in the auditorium of the space which Eric Carle called the museum that the very hungry caterpillar built, the event was low-key and inspirational at the same time.
Another local textual activity these days are the regular monthly gatherings at City Hall of a group that is trying - the work, (reading) and the discussions are challenging - to select a single book that members of the Northampton community will be invited to read and talk about in small groups next fall, when the city celebrates its 350th birthday.
The concept is a common one in cities and towns around the country - South Hadley has chosen to read Madeleine Blaiss memoir Uphill Walkers this year and Greenfield read a Barbara Kingsolver novel last year, and cities as large as Chicago have joined the movement.
First designated the Northampton Reads Committee, the group has since been renamed On the Same Page committee to conform to the rubric of the program in other parts of the country.
So far after at least six or eight meetings, we are still struggling to come up with a final choice, which probably wont be made until after the first of the year. The early list, including scores of candidates, was pared drastically, increased once more in size, was whittled back and then new entries were added. When you look at the universe of books, consensus is not easy is achieve.
Some of the criteria we have established for choosing the final title is that it be a work of fiction because that seems to generate the liveliest group discussions; that there be some New England connection, if possible; that local writers be excluded because choosing one from the large field of local authors would be daunting; that the book be accessible and appropriate for a range of age groups as well as to both men and women readers; that it be available in paperback; that it could be linked to an auxiliary event, such as an appearance by the author - Mark Twain cant make it, were told - and that, above all, the book deal with issues that provide a sense of what it means to be a community.
This committee is made up of residents who are affiliated with bookstores, representatives of the citys two libraries, volunteers from various groups, such as the Northampton Human Rights Commission, a school librarian, a member of the school committee, and a Smith College administrator.