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Guest Blog - Library Love Fest

June 3, 2015

When I think library, I recall my own first library, the Mabel Tainter Library, built in the 1880s on Main Street in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

Lumber baron Captain Andrew Tainter and his wife, Bertha, spared no expense in building the memorial to their daughter, Mabel, who had enjoyed music and the arts during her short lifetime; she died at 19. The imposing stone building (which I thought of as a castle) was cool as marble inside—marble floors, marble staircase. It had hand-stenciled walls and ceilings, stained glass windows, fireplaces, brass fixtures, and walnut and oak woodwork. Though it was called a library, the memorial building was actually best known for its impressive theater.

I can still feel the energy that pulled me in when I opened that massive door and entered the high-ceilinged space. The librarian greeted me—I was a “regular”—and helped me through the maze of tall shelves to the books I came to enjoy. My mother was an avid reader, we had loads of books in the house, but in the library I was free to explore other worlds.

With a new book in hand, I would sit in one of the deep, upholstered chairs in front of tall windows, where I’d kick off my loafers and tuck my legs up under my wool skirt or cotton shorts (depending on the season) and immerse myself in the world of Carol Ryrie Brink’s Caddie Woodlawn or Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. Each of those authors drew on her rural Wisconsin heritage and each wrote strong female characters, characters who knew how to fend for themselves. Not soon after, I got hooked on mystery novels, first Nancy Drew, then books by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Agatha Christie. I would read until the light came low through the tall widows and then I’d check out the book I was reading and walk home to finish it later.

I’m sure that what I read then had an influence on what I write today. In The Cherry Harvest, I draw on my own rural Wisconsin upbringing. Libraries continue to play a critical role in my writing. In doing research for The Cherry Harvest, I spent hours at the Door County Library in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, reading though reference materials and rolling through microfiche of 1944 newspapers. Librarian Laura Kayacan was invaluable in connecting me with people in the area who had been there during the time of the POW camps as well as local historians who reviewed my final manuscript.

One of the beauties of public libraries is that they are open to everyone. We might think of their importance to people who don’t have ready access to books. But even for someone who grew up with books in her home, the library was a fabulous escape into times, places, and characters I would never have otherwise known.