Firstly, I must say I am so thankful to all of you for your time and thoughts on Thirty-Four. When I wrote that post, I did not have the slightest clue that such a simple topic would resonate with you all so well, but I could not be happier that it did. …Not because I care about statistics or whatever, but because the love of a library is not lost on you all. It is a love that I am just beginning to understand, and a love that Matil has known her whole life. If it was not for her, I would not have had such a great experience the other day at the library, and a doubly-great experience today visiting the Caldwell Library again. So again, thank you, and I hope you enjoy this post just as well.
The sun rose to beautiful cool blue sky with wispy white clouds and crisp winter air. We received a few inches of snow yesterday, but most of it melted off, leaving us with the remnants of a snowfall that was just enough to add character to the season and not be a hassle. As is typical for Jersey winters, the morning blue typically fades to a grey overcast before lunch, so I knew I would need to act quickly if I was going to have a chance of including the sky in the photographs. If I failed to catch the blue skies before they turned grey, all these photos would simply be black and white. : ) Monochrome photographs are wonderful at turning dreary into beautiful. Either case would work very well, but I’m happy to add a bit of color today, anyway.
So what to do with the morning? Well, the library suddenly seems like a popular spot. So here we are at Caldwell Library, which was the second of the three libraries I spoke about in Thirty-Four. Each of you painted pictures in your minds what this library looked like, or just imagined your own library. Here I am going to add the actual photos of what I tried to describe, so let me know how they match up.
The Caldwell library is housed in this small brick structure from the 1800s. I don’t know exactly when- but the rest of the town seems to have been built up around the 1870s, so that would be my best guess. They have done well with the space- adding the section you see on the left side of the picture above, and they finished the basement to make that a children’s reading space. The children’s area is Crayola yellow, has paper streamers hanging from the ceiling, had several low shelves of books, tables and chairs, and was really a place that we should all feel welcome to enjoy. That is.. if age, ‘decorum,’ and being a grown up (whatever that means) didn’t catch up with us all. In the small back yard from the children’s reading room, they had a little grass reading area with these guys:
Once inside the main floor, I made my way down the non-fiction section to see if there were any other books on Photoshop that looked great. It is not that I need any more books on Photoshop, but frankly, I often look at the 006.6 and the 770 sections of the Dewey Decimal system. That translates to computer graphics software and photography. In the past, I have not spent much time venturing beyond these numbers. They are my comfort zone, and that lack of exploration is unfortunate…
The library is old, small, has outdated colors, and is composed of cheap materials. Those are some adjectives. Here are some other adjectives: It is comfortable, warm, functional, clean, maintained, and most importantly: an effective and organized system of books. What else must a library be other than an effective and organized system of book storage??
Not only do I thoroughly enjoy the “perfectly imperfect” masonry walls throughout the library, but they serve an additional purpose: This library is broken up into several small rooms, and those masonry walls, along with the drop ceiling roof and carpeted floor make this a very quiet library. You do not hear the echo of metacarpals striking keys on a keyboard within the confines of those prisoner visitation booths… aka private study booths, so common in ‘modern’ libraries.
But look closer and put yourself in the minds and thoughts of the people who brought this library up through the years. Look at the beaded edge around the plug socket. I have the same thing on my wedding band. I wonder who originally purchased these plugs? Did they think that they look fancy and will add to the appearance throughout the building? Were they the standard issue plug during that time period? Was this an up-sell? And I wonder what existed on this wall that has been patched over with masonry… because this plug is about four feet off the floor.
And the privacy block glass windows along the rear of the building… Wow. I will admit that modern windows that could be opened on a nice day may serve better, especially in the days before central air, but these are just so perfect for the mood of the place. Maybe they used to be open windows and were replaced some time later, I do not know. Yes they are old and beginning to yellow, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Would you? Doesn’t every little detail add to the character of the place?
Along the front wall we have these large arched windows with beautiful, yet simple, framework that overlook Bloomfield Avenue. But that is besides the point. The point is the sunlight falling on the books towards the front of the library was far superior to the endless drowning of happiness and wonder by long tubes of artificial fluorescent light as the sole source of daylight.
So that is a few tidbits of this library building, spoken in the most flattering way I can think of. And hey, I know this place is not the end-all be-all of library existence. For that I will do a segment on NY’s finest, grandest, boldest, powerful and awe-inspiring Public Library on another day.
The books are what make libraries great. Not only does this library have old architecture, but it also has an old inventory of books, mostly. That can be both good and bad, but let’s look at the good. (Because the bad is easily resolved: this library is a member of a thirty-nine member consortium, where books, movies, DVDs, and historical data can be requested and shipped within the system- all free of charge. So modern is easily available, if that is what is needed.) Ok, so the good: Can you smell the books? This library is full of stories, mysteries, novels, biographies, text books, encyclopedias and more that share an awesome trait: The perfume of aged paper. Aged, dry paper that sticks properly as you thumb through the pages. A few books even have little folded corners on pages that have been pressed back straight. These folded corners are often hints on a treasure map that lead you to the exciting parts of the book. Other times, they are a false hint designed to throw off those following in the prior reader’s tracks. Old paper books: the iPad will never be able to replicate that.
I started to venture outwards in the 700-series books. Look what I found? I know my Mom knows exactly where these houses are. : ) Isn’t it great that this library has these old books so that I can read about the architectural styles of the homes in our communities while they were written when the styles were new? And isn’t it great that this library presented this book to me so that I could have a quick moment with my mother just now, which I already know made her whole night? What is better than that?
I checked out the Olmsted Parks book, because as it turns out this wealthy family is the reason for so many of the beautiful parks in our area- to include the two parks I run at regularly: Branch Brook Park in Newark and Brookdale Park in Bloomfield.
Norman Rockwell wrote an autobiography. I didn’t know that! The book had no dust cover and the only thing that caught my eye was the bright green pattern and the single-word statement pressed into the spine in classic gold flake: “Rockwell.”
I flipped through the legend’s memoir looking for the paintings (there are a few in the back) but I came across this page that made this book part of my “must read” list. If you can pinch to zoom on your phone and read it, or if you click the image on your computer to enlarge it, it is well worth it! Start from the second half on the left page. A little difficult, I know, but worth it.
Alright now on to something different- the pictures on the walls showing us the local history. When I was here the other day, I described them as dollar frames, and while that would have been perfectly fitting for this environment, upon closer look I can see that somebody put some effort into these frames- and that is also perfectly fitting, I suppose. It is acid-free archival paper mats with wood frames of a decent quality, so I stand corrected and apologize to the framer.
Anyway, this building is across the street. While the framing seems appropriate, the photography I am a little disappointed in. Here is my quick and dirty take on the same building today, taken with a pocket camera:
Do you remember how the other day I was talking about how a photographer has great choice in what thousand words his or her picture will say? One way to do that is through the inclusion or exclusion of certain details. For example, if I decided to end this post here you may walk away thinking Caldwell, New Jersey is a nice little town with nothing particularly remarkable to offer… other than my best attempt at speaking of its small library as though it were the Lost City of Atlantis. You might think that, but it would be a disservice if I were to prevent you from looking to the left a little bit:
This is the First Presbyterian Church at Caldwell. Also- just a quarter mile down the street in the opposite direction, at 207 Bloomfield Avenue, you will stumble upon President Grover Cleveland’s birthplace, built in 1832. So Caldwell has some stuff. : ) I choose inclusion.
I like the color in the photo, and also I thought it was great to see an actual photo and camera store. These stores are reaching extinction very quickly, and I doubt this store’s future is promising, but it is nice that it is here today. Maybe one day my photo will be on the wall in that library and some future person will comment about when people actually used to buy products in a store.
Lastly, on a side street, I came across Mr. Monte’s chrome plating shop. I think this guy would chrome plate anything you handed him. His days appear numbered, unfortunately. I wanted to ask him for a photo, but I’m just not on that level yet with some folks. And frankly, some folks just don’t want to be photographed. The building itself is even getting tired. Can you see how the entire structure is listing towards its neighbor with the blue door? If I had to guess, there are only a few blizzards left for that structure. But beyond that- he keeps it clean, painted, and relevant. I say relevant because if a certain guy gives me a call in a couple months to help him get his new boat in the water, then I know of a couple plates off the throttle and transmission assemblies that could use a good coat of chrome. Dad just realized why I said relevant. : )
Primary colors. This is the back of the chrome shop. The car under the blue tarp is an old Mercedes convertible. I am sure that car was acquired when times were good for Mr. Monte, and everybody in town was chroming everything they had. (The Fire Department is directly across the street, by the way) But now the car sits… and judging by the way the tarp has worn and torn its way over the rear view mirrors leads me to believe it has been sitting for some time… and Mr. Monte has had it rough for quite some time, too.
We all do what we need to do to be happy with our time here, and I bet that is why he has this Mercedes patiently waiting for the day the tarp comes off. And I bet if you ask him, he would tell you that he knows the Mercedes will never see its prime again, and that it would be better off in a junk yard… But the truth is it will not leave that property before he does. I think it has to be that way. I, too, have a few broken items from years ago that I cannot bear to throw away because I feel like I would be throwing away part of me with it. For example, I have the “Cutlass Ciera” from my first car. It’s not hanging prominently anywhere. I have it tucked away in my toolbox- and it will probably remain there longer than I remain here on Earth.