Friday, May 26, 2017

Libraries I Have Known

The golden age of libraries, at least as brick and mortar institutions, is now over. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what role they can play in a world where all the knowledge of all humanity is available to everyone through a device they carry around in their pocket. I doubt libraries will ever completely disappear, surviving in some cases as educational community space or depositories of special collections and historical artifacts. However, most of them will close in the coming years and certainly no community should be investing any serious money into new or existing library buildings. Are you listening Amherst?

I was lucky that I was alive during the golden age of libraries, before the digital revolution altered and diminished their role, so I thought I would list the libraries I have visited and that have influenced my life.

Liberty Street Library

When my father got out of the service and before my parents moved back to their childhood neighborhood of Pine Point, my family lived in Hungry Hill, Springfield's Irish ghetto. It's still a ghetto, but now it's a Spanish one. The nationalities change, but the poor are always with us. I got my first library card in this charming little stone structure, but can barely remember that event or anything about the inside. Despite its official, address based name, everyone always called it the Hungry Hill Library. Today it is a senior center, having closed as a branch library some three years ago.

Pine Point Library

I have fond memories of this longtime Pine Point landmark, especially their summer reading program. It was originally The Boston Road School, which my grandfather attended. The Boston Road School closed as unnecessary after the construction of the Balliet and Dorman Elementary Schools, so the building was converted to a library, a role it played until it was destroyed in a 1970 fire.

A newer but architecturally inferior structure replaced it, but that too is now defunct, closed in the same downsizing of the Springfield Library system that shuttered the Liberty Street branch.

Springfield City Library

My first bus trips downtown as a boy were to this central branch, a beautiful marble structure given to the city by the generous industrialist Andrew Carnegie. The first copying machine I ever used was located in Rice Hall at a time when such technology was new. I liked this library better before the remodeling of a decade or so ago, which improved the interior in some ways but at the loss of some of its former antique charm. Still a great place to spend a rainy afternoon.

Duggan Jr. High Library

This chronically under performing school, lousy even back in my day, actually had a decent library with a good science fiction section which I raided regularly. Today it is one of the Valley's most notorious leftist indoctrination centers, um, I mean, "An Expeditionary Learning Magnet School with a Social Justice Theme" according to their website. While I suppose Duggan must still have a library, I fear that today it is more likely to be filled with political fictions rather than science ones.

High School of Commerce Library

Commerce I love you, but I can't remember your library. I know there must have been one, but apparently I never went to it. I must have been too much into the Commerce social scene, which of course had to be cool if I was a part of it.

UMass Library

When I arrived at UMass in 1976 the library, then known simply as The UMass Library, was only four years old. As a boy, I visited the original Goodell Library, my main memory being the big seats just inside the main entrance on which students lounged and flirted.

The current library is nice, although digitization is causing whole floors to be converted from books to other uses. Ultimately, most floors of the library will probably be converted to housing. Hopefully, the library will someday have its name changed from honoring the Nazi-sympathizing, communist admiring W.E.B. Dubois to someone more worthy of the honor.

Robert Frost Library

I love this beautiful library, named after Amherst's second most famous poet, with no less a dignitary than U.S. President John F. Kennedy presiding at its groundbreaking.

Jones Library

Amherst's main public library is a gorgeous stone structure that should stand for centuries. Unfortunately, misguided do-gooders are currently plotting a major renovation that will significantly alter its historic appearance. Don't do it, Amherst!

Forbes Library

This is another wonderful stone structure, whose little known secret is the fascinating Calvin Coolidge Presidential Museum on the second floor (if you can find it open). Fantastic antique paintings can be found throughout the building.

Western New England University D'Amour Library

A modern, well designed library in Springfield, this is a hidden gem gifted by Big Y's D'Amour family, located on the borderline of Pine Point and 16 Acres. Unfortunately, the atmosphere is not very hospitable to non-students.

Springfield Technical Community College Library

Located in one of the original Springfield Armory buildings, this library features brick walls and hardwood floors. I haven't been there in years, but the Men's Room upstairs used to feature cool looking antique urinals. Once again, the library is not very welcoming to non-students.

AIC Shea Library

Despite its location in the heart of Springfield's black ghetto, this is a very functional library with a friendly staff and a surprisingly varied selection. Underutilized by the community, it is worth a visit.

Springfield College Babson Library

A beautiful library that is fully accessible to the public. It also features kinda homoerotic statues of college age athletes.

M.D. Anderson Library - University of Houston

From time to time I have visited my relatives in Texas, although I haven't done so since 2002. Whenever I went, I always visited this architecturally interesting library in Houston. I was looking at the Masslive website on a computer in this library when I first learned that Congressman Edward Boland had died back in Springfield.

So there's some thumbnail sketches of libraries I have known, used and sometimes loved. But don't try to go to the library this weekend. They will all be closed due to Memorial Day.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Captain Meffen

I was saddened to discover in March that former Springfield Police Captain Robert Meffen had died at the age of 94. I was also surprised, since I hadn't thought of him in ages and if asked would have assumed that he must've died long ago. Meffen was a Pine Pointer and very active in the Boy Scouts, which is how I got to know him. As hectic as his life must have been with the endless list of personal, professional and civic obligations he had (see his obituary) he still managed to put aside Saturday mornings to help us with our advancement in scouting.

I was a terrible Boy Scout who only joined so I could go on camping trips. I belonged to Troop 53, best remembered today as the scout troop that unsolved murder victim Danny Crouteau belonged to. In fact, one of the leaders of Troop 53 was at one point a suspect in the investigation. I wonder if Captain Meffen played any role in investigating the Crouteau murder. Meffen was the head of what in those days was called "The Vice Squad" and would have been an obvious person to consult for information on the region's potentially dangerous perverts.

On at least a couple of Saturday mornings I reluctantly and even somewhat resentfully (as a schoolboy I preferred to sleep in on Saturdays) went to Captain Meffen's gatherings of scouts, just two or three of us at a time, and he would go over something to do with merit badges, tying knots and other scoutly interests. I remember him as being endlessly patient with us, in sharp contrast with how he spoke to his own sons, which was often in the tone of a drill sergeant speaking to a lazy recruit. His sons used to sass him right back, which sometimes resulted in a small hint of a grin on his face, suggesting that he wasn't quite as stern as he attempted to appear and his sons knew it.

Despite Robert Meffen's best efforts, I never earned any merit badges. However, that was all my fault and none of his, as I do recall how earnest he was in his desire that we boys of Troop 53 get something positive out of scouting. He never realized that the best thing I got out of scouting was the positive experience of spending a little time with him. Rest easy Captain, you were one of the good ones, in a landscape in which monsters roamed.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A List

Springfield has released a list of over 200 convicted sex offenders known to live in the city, complete with photographs.

A few of them actually look quite pleasant.

Others, less so.

It may not be the best idea to leave the grandkids with the family patriarch.

To peruse the list in its entirely, click here.

Is this a baker or a stoner?

The Northampton Farmer's Market is open for business on Saturdays.

Haymarket lily.