"When all else fails, give up and go to the library." Stephen King
North Easton: left to right, Rockery, Oakes Ames Hall, Ames Free Library.
Fortunately, in Easton, we have a lovely library with an interesting history. I have enjoyed it throughout my life. I remember sitting on the wooden floor in front of the shelves in the Children’s Wing searching for a mystery I hadn’t read yet. Later, in junior high, I remember working on homework with friends and waiting to be “shushed” if we so much as whispered. (I remember there was a book on human biology or anatomy that had to be requested from the librarian at her desk. We had some giggles about that.) Then in college, snagging a study alcove and hiding in it for hours. Later, I loved venturing upstairs to the balcony area, where the floorboards creaked as you walked, searching for treasure among the books on art and exotic religions.
Picture of the Reading Room with its large brownstone fireplace designed by Stanford White, above it a bas relief of Oliver Ames, the library's donor, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Here are some interesting facts about the library’s early days, collected from A Centennial History of Ames Free Library of Easton, Inc. 1883-1983 on the Ames Free Library website. The Ames Free Library opened in 1883. Prior to that, there were some subscription libraries in Easton, but this was the first public library, funded by Oliver Ames in his will.
*In 1883 when the library opened a borrower had to be over fourteen years old and could only take out one book at a time.
*Initially the books were arranged by subject, with 19 departments. Black covers were put on the books to protect them.
*When the library opened in March of 1883, 1,643 books went into circulation. At the time, the population of Easton was 4,000. An impressive amount of interest. The first borrowers preferred Prose Fiction (novels) and Juvenile Reading.
*For a long time, the book stacks were separated from the rest of the library by a carved wooden screen and the librarian’s desk. Only the librarian could go into the stacks and retrieve your book.
*Mary Lavinia Lamphrey, daughter of the Easton High School principal, Maitland C. Lamphrey, became the second librarian in 1891. Although she’d been a student at Boston University, she received only one month training before officially taking over; she and her family moved into the apartment on the second floor of the library. Interestingly, her father was to complete or oversee any janitorial work. She served as librarian for 53 years and was enormously loved and respected.
Miss Mary Lavinia Lamphrey. She continued to live in her library apartment even after she retired.
*Because there had been an increase in the Swedish population, in 1905 twenty books in Swedish were acquired along with a subscription to a Swedish newspaper.
*Sometimes young boys were sent by Miss Lamphrey directly to the Queset to wash their hands before they were allowed to touch the books.
*In 1932 there was a huge change when, “‘the cage’ (Miss Lamprey's high desk) was removed. Also removed was the grill between the charge room and the stack area. The high desk and grill gone, the library moved into the era of the open stack, and readers could go directly to the shelves to pick out their own books instead of filling out ‘Hall Slips.’ The balcony was still off-limits and would be, until Mrs. Irene Smith, Miss Lamprey's successor, opened it in 1944.” Today it is closed and used for storage.
Today, as in the past, the Ames Free Library is an island of calm in a busy world and a portal to numerous other worlds. Slip into River Heights with Nancy Drew or walk into the woods of Concord with Henry David Thoreau. The fact that it is within walking distance of schools is a bonus. To quote Mary Lamphrey on the occasion of her 50th year as librarian, "In a library you deal with the stuff out of which eternity is made - the garnered best that mortals have thought and hoped, preserved in words of force and beauty."
Anne Wooster Drury
Anne Wooster Drury