Fireside Chats Recap – December 2021

We had a great first Fireside Chat on the front lawn during the Winter Solstice. Thank you to all who came out, told stories, ate s’mores and drank warm cider and coffee with us! Enjoy some images below and listen to our featured storyteller, Stephanie Holman, kick off the series with an introduction and three personal stories. Transcript included at the end of post.

The evening’s atmosphere and mood on the last day of the shortest light, waning over the neighbors’ home and the City of Belfast public ice rink. (Photo: Chris Battaglia)
Professional storyteller and librarian Stephanie Holman kicked off the series on the front lawn of Waterfall Arts on the Winter Solstice. (Photo: Chris Battaglia)

Link to the rest of photoset on Flickr here.


For Finn.

If you’re human, you’re a storyteller. And let me just–check, check, checking, checking, checking. Yes, humans abound. So we’re all storytellers, every kind. And no story is the right way. We all like different stories, different ways. So after I’m done up here, I hope that you feel inspired to share something short. Something that you feel just happened or you just thought of, it doesn’t have to be planned at all. It can have a beginning, middle and end. But mostly it just has to be from your heart and from your soul and public libraries are my heart and my soul.

I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana on a back to the land experiment in the 1970s. I’m still here, I survived. And I didn’t go to the public library very often in Bloomington, Indiana. But my mother would come home with stacks high of books. And I’ve seen so many Belfast folk coming in and getting those same Mile High piles of books to take back to your locations and read, read, read. And so because of our powerful library card, the most powerful card on the planet, I like to say–much more powerful than a credit card. You have access to the world. And because of that card, I had access to the world there on that small 28 acre dairy farm that we started.

Now, when I was a kid, I would often take my books–I don’t necessarily recommend this– out to the pasture, or my favorite cow Elsie would be huddled with her other gal pals they would rest of an afternoon and if the sun was just right, it would fall on their poofed up bellies as they sat like, like couches, they were and I would cuddle up next to their furry bellies. And starting with my latest Nancy Drew, only to be interrupted when the cud was–burp!–began and began to chew. And I loved reading anywhere, anytime. And so it’s not a surprise that as a teenager, I was still reading heavily. And I would go to the Monroe County Public Library where I would later work. And I would look for that young adult section I look for books that said, fantasy on the side paperbacks, those were mine. And I love doing my homework there. And that was my foundation, my library beginnings.

But I went to Indiana University, undergrad and graduate school, with a specialization in children’s services. And that was all because of that farm life.

I can strongly remember, I was my senior year, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my future. But I had the awful task of bringing the hay bales in from the conveyor belt, dragging them and then hoisting them towards the back wherever the pile was. And situating them sometimes ridiculously high up in that hayloft.

And I remember the the dust motes going up my nose and that scratches on my forearms from lifting those heavy bales and, and the heat. I don’t know if you’ve been in Indiana humidity, but it’s awful. And it was at that moment that I said, I want to go to college! I want to get a job indoor with air conditioning. And it should be with books because books stacked so much more easily than bales. And there’s so much easier to tote and carry. Yes, yes!

And so I began my journey to become a librarian. And I lucked out and got a children’s librarian job in my hometown, my home county in Monroe County, Indiana. (The only, by the way, blue county in the state of red. I loved Bloomington so much.) And it was a great 30 years at my library there.

But I remember it was about 15 years into my library journey, I went to an American Library Association Conference and it was in Toronto, right after the SARS epidemic. And there we were the one of the first conferences to take place in Toronto. And one of the speakers was Ralph Nader.

And I’ll never forget what he said about public libraries. And granted, this was 15 years ago. So imagine he said this today, as I’m going to say to you imagine if you will, a group of people saying I know let’s pull our money will will will pay for buildings and and we’ll buy books that cover every subject and we’ll hire staff and and they will give free access to everyone who comes in with just the power of a library card. Can you imagine that happening today, said Ralph We all win. But luckily, public libraries grew up so organically from usually men’s clubs where only the men and the rich were allowed. And then slowly but surely over time, and with the training of librarians, they were opened and access to all.

And so, in 1989 Yes, this is a historical piece. I began my library career in Monroe County. And that very first year, I got one of the best readers advisory questions and I want to say to each and every one of you, please come in and see me for help finding the right book at the right time, because that is the librarians superhero motto. You might not know that we have one, but it’s to find the right book for the right person at the right time.

And that very first year 1989 Newbie library, you know, so nervous, so worried. And in Kane, this grandfatherly like, type figure, and he had a daughter about about your age, how old are you? Eight years old? That sounds perfect. And he said, I want my daughter to read this book, a fiction book that I grew up with. I said, Oh, what’s the title? He said, I don’t know. I don’t know the title. I don’t know the author. I only know that in the book, one of the main characters had a necklace with the lions tooth on it. And I knew right away what book that was, because I read it when I was about eight or nine. I said, Oh, The Middle Sister. That’s right over here. And off, I found it.

And that’s when I knew I was in the right place to find the right book for the right person at the right time. And so over the years, so many different readers advisory and reference situations.

Another I would like to tell you about early in my career, most of my career was pre internet. Now, we didn’t work with the paper catalog drawers that you might know about. We had a computerized catalog. But we had no internet to look up things at that time. And so we relied on our brains and our knowledge of the collections.

And one day, I was sitting behind my information desk, went up came to boys about the age of these gentlemen right here. And they came up to the desk. And–kind of shuffling their feet, and looking every which way but at me–one of the older boys said, “We want–we want a book, we want books about the birds and the bees.”

Ah, the progressive librarian was a way eager to have this conversation. She said, “Oh, I know just where those are. Follow me gentlemen, over here to the six twelves. Here you’ll find everything you might be interested in. But if there’s other questions, if there’s anything further I can help you with, just let me know.”

And I went back to my desk, feeling satisfied that the library was such a welcoming place, and that we could serve all kinds of questions. When just a moment later, those two young men came right back up to my desk. And they were shuffling even more and a little bit red in the face. When the one said, “Uh, that wasn’t–that wasn’t the section. No, no. He wants birds and I want bees.”

And I was quick to regroup and find those subjects for them.

But my last little story have a reference advisory where I maybe didn’t listen quite well enough or ask those follow up questions that help you get exactly what people want.

It was Friday night, at my Elliotsville Branch Library where I worked for 30 years. It was five minutes still closing and in walked a patron that I had never seen in the doors before. He was a tall farmer type he had overalls on and long rubber boots and I grew up on a farm. I knew that smell it was a mixture of manure, dirt and hard work. And here he came and he had two little children beside him. And he came in and I said “Oh, sir”–being proactive, you know, because it’s closing time–I said, “may I help you find something? And he said the most magical thing that he wanted poetry books. And so I left to attention and as I beckoned him to follow me across the length of the library. I rambled on about, Oh, it’ll be right over here and the eight elevens that’s where our poetry books are but tell me are you after a certain type of poem or an author a poet?

Is it a love poem your afterwards or a special occasion? The man stopped dead in his tracks, put his hands on his hips and said, “Woman, I don’t have time for poetry. I got guinea fowl are dying on me, I need poultry books!”

And I had only moments to save the flock. And this was pre-internet. But thanks to great library service, with the collection, being one of the best parts of a library and all of its formats, I found just the right book. And he even reported back to me later, that indeed, together we had saved the flock.

And so these spaces, these shared spaces, they’ve changed over time. It’s not such a quiet place anymore. We’re more of a community center. We’re more there to help with all the things of humanity. And we’re there to help you in your reading life and help build a reading life. You have a reading life and you have your home library. You have your family’s libraries, you might have a school library, you have a public library, there’s academic libraries, there’s museums, there’s so many out there filled with so many stories of our journey.