Passport to Vermont Libraries – Pat Belding Interview

Passport to Vermont's Libraries
This is an interview that Kellogg-Hubbard Librarian Joy Worland did with Pat Belding author of Where the Books Are: History & Architecture of Vermont’s Public Libraries with Photos & Anecdotes (1996), a book that has photos and information about every public library in Vermont. The interview took place on June 2nd, 2015.
JW: Can you say again how many years…?
PB: Yeah it took us four years, and went 9000 miles.
We got to see every library, 201 at the time. Even the smallest ones. The smallest one was the one in Danville … the Joe’s Pond area that was the smallest library. Some were in churches and some were in old town halls and in everywhere you wouldn’t expect. Anybody who wanted a library, they just wanted it anyplace they could have it.
We had to make arrangements like when we went up on the islands they were only open so many hours a week. So I would call ahead and sometimes a town clerk would come, sometimes a volunteer would come. It took planning, but I got to see a lot of towns I’d never seen before and never probably would see again. I don’t think we did the 251 but we were pretty close for the time, we went through everywhere.
JW: Did you go to … there’s that one on the way to Rutland, I think it may be on 107. There’s this little tiny one on the left like on 107 it might be Trotting? [ed note this is the Trotting Library run by Beth Dawley in Stockbridge, not a public library]
PB: I don’t know if we went to that one or not?
JW: it looks like a little house?
PB: Belcher in Gaysville?
JW: Yeah I drive by there sometimes and it’s usually on a Sunday and I’ve never been there but I just think it’s so …
PB: Yeah there are just so many really interesting ways that they used buildings for libraries. And some of them were really like, one of them was in the building with the post office. it was just one room. We had to give every library its due no matter if it was just one room or not. What’s happened, things have changed drastically in 20 years, it was in 96 so it’s 18 years. Someone says “Are you going to do an update?” I said “No that’s for somebody else to do, and that would make a wonderful book”
JW: It would.
PB: And when I found out that Jeudevine library became a home. Did you know that? The one in Hardwick?
JW: Became what?
PB: A home, a house. The library is out of there now.
JW: No, I didn’t know.
PB: I oughta go online and see where it is now.
JW: I didn’t know that. That’s a beautiful building.
PB: It was one of the gems. It was really one of the architectural gems. I forget who told me. I said “Oh my gosh”
JW: So it’s like a private residence?
PB: Private home. Like St Johnsbury, all those wonderful spindle galleries and everything. I don’t know it would be interesting to see what they did with it. But that was a disappointment to me when I heard that but they probably wanted more space.
JW: Yeah it wasn’t very big. So there is another library I assume. I liked that library a lot.
PB: So maybe people will be, when they do this Passport thing, they will really be amazed not just at what we have here but how things have changed. When we were doing it the Chester Library was putting on an addition. And so we were able to look over and see them working down in a pit you know, they were just building it. That was one of the ones that I remember an addition being added at that time, but since then many have been including of course our Aldrich Library.
JW: And Kellogg-Hubbard.
PB: They’ve had at least two additions, two or three.
[back and forth about number of additions]
JW: How many years were you at Aldrich?
PB: Twenty-six. I started my library career at Auburndale Massachusetts, part of Newton. I worked from 8th grade through college and I’d work in the summers. And when the Children’s Librarians in the system–and there were I forget how many libraries in Newton–I would ride my bike and I would take over the children’s libraries when they went on vacations. I had quite a lot of experience but I never had a library degree. I have a BA from UMass.
JW: What was your role at Aldrich?
PB: Well I started out, believe it or not there were only four people then, and I was only working like sixteen hours a week because I had… Russell our youngest was in second grade I think … and I had said I wasn’t going to work until he was in Junior High but the job came open, it was evenings and on Saturdays so I was able to still be with the family. So I started then and I did become Assistant Librarian in the 70s and I was Children’s Librarian at one time before we had the children’s room downstairs. We were all jammed in in the upstairs, like a lot of libraries would have been. That Children’s Room was an empty space in the basement that the Women’s Club of Barre they had kind of a lease on it. And we were hardly allowed to walk through it. Eventually the library came in and said “Hey we need that space” and the Womens Club was beginning to fade anyway so the Children’s Room was built and then they added on to the Children’s Room. have you been there? They did a beautiful job. I was retired before they started the addition but I watched it very closely because it was like home to me and it still is. So Karen Lane has just done a phenomenal job. Everyone else wanted an addition but she did it and it’s amazing.
JW: So you were working at the library and loved libraries. What made you think “I want to go around and see all these libraries?”
PB: Well my husband worked for the department of Agriculture. He had this section from Central Vermont ot the border. He was what they called “the bug man” and did plant pest control. At that time the gypsy moths and the Japanese beetle, they were hoping to control but it got out of hand. As he is a photographer, on his lunch hour he took pictures of libraries as he’d see them,m particularly the one that were unusual architecturally. He had maybe twenty pictures and we were giving a slide show at the library and Mary Anne Koch–she was Mary Anne Cassell then–had seen the snow and the VLA wanted a book to mark the 100th anniversary. And that’s all we had was these pictures. So they said “How about doing it?” Well there was no way we could do it in a year, was just a year that we had.
JW: 100th anniversary of VLA?
PB: I think that was in 94? Not sure. Paul Carnahan was involved in it He and Mary Anne. I think Paul was the one that tried to get a publisher within the state and they, I don’t know how many queries they sent out but they did try. Nobody wanted to do it, small. So that’s when we decided that we were going to self-publish. Of course self-publishing was just beginning to have some veracity to it. it used to be just “vanity press” but when we did it I think it was beginning to come into its own. Now it’s really flourishing. So we went to L Brown and Son’s down here, we talked it over. VLA gave us $1250 I think which was very nice. I guess we used it on mileage. It was a fun thing, it wasn’t just a job. We enjoyed it a lot.
Most of the time we could come home at night. We did stay with a relative down in Greenfield and did that whole lower area there. We really went in all weather, as you can see in the pictures. Now my husband and I say “How the heck did we ever do that?” because I was still working
JW: So you did it on your days off?
PB: We did it on days off mainly.
JW: And of course you had to work around the hours of the library
PB: Work around the library. That was the part that was… I did call ahead a lot. There were librarians who were very nice and said “We’ll meet you there at such and such a time” One time on the islands we went and the hours had changed. The hours in the directory had changed since I had the directory and we got there and it was closed, but the town clerk was right next door “Oh I have a key!” It was a great experience because everyone was so helpful.
One of the things that is very interesting is I would go in to the library and the first thing I would do was to check the town history or something that would give me some information. Some libraries had some really good town histories. Smaller ones didn’t. They might have histories, but the library wouldn’t have its own chapter. You’d have to figure out, “Is it with education? So digging was really quite a job just to get the material. Towards the end, Paul Carnahan called me. He said “I just came across a wonderful file of clippings about the libraries” so I got some wonderful stories. The one in Hinesburg where they put the cat up the flagpole, did you read that part? They had this little Hinesburg Library kinda on a little hill, a little knoll. One of those small libraries and I understand it’s moved and Id be interested to know where it went. That building was built I guess it was an academy there and some of the student ran a dead cat up the flagpole and of course the headmaster wasn’t too happy but that was an interesting story. I tried to incorporate anecdotes into the story. There were no statistics, there were NOT going to be any statistics. Who wants to read that? And they change! Really that clipping file that Paul gave me, it was towards the end and it really helped to fill it out.
JW: So did you get anecdotes from people that you talked to as well? Did you meet most of the librarians or people who lived in town?
PB: Well I met most of the librarians, yeah. A lot of them didn’t have too much time to visit. They were all very pleasant. I didn’t do anything beyond what I found. like “How do you like your library?” No I didn’t go into that at all. I was really into the history and the architecture more or less. When people say “Are you going to write any more? Update?” I wanted a history up to that point and the architecture to be noted. That’s a good book for another person. Someone with a lot of enthusiasm for libraries. It would make another wonderful book. Where the Books Are II!
JW: What was it like when you finally got it published and everything and what was the response like?
PB: The library was wonderful. They gave me a book signing and someone loaned me a cradle and we put the book in the cradle, like the birth of a book! That was kind of fun, I really hasd a good crowd of people come and sold a lot of them. I was hoping every library would buy it but it was $23 or something and some of the smaller libraries.. I sent out flyers to every single library and I went to VLA meetings twice and sold it. Never did have a second printing. I can’t remember how man I printed but I must have printed a thousand. I can’t remember how many I’d sold but I had quite a few left. And I had given them out and gifts and stuff like this. But now I am down to five copies after these.
The fact that the VLA helped us… when this [Passport Program] came out I thought “What better way to use those” because I am beginning to try to get rid of things. Although we have a son Russell who is a historian and has written three books. It’s all the history of North Main Street is what he’s doing. So I know that the stuff that we have historical will go where it should go. I’m glad to be able to give these. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about this book…. This is our third book and I should say “our” because Jack did all these photographs and some of them in here.
Now people are familiar with the Talk of the Town? Now this is just Barre and my feeling is that any town could do this. I have two full cartons of these that I would love to give away….
[discussion about Talk of the Town]
JW: You obviously are a really good researcher. How did that tie into your work at the library or is that just something you have always done?
PB: Well I’ve always had an avid history interest. Russell has too. In fact he’s much more of a researcher than I am. I did easy stuff, that was from the paper, this was from the paper. This was really more of my own research, more than the others.
JW: So the library book is mostly original, mostly from town histories?
PB: Most of the material, yes. It tells in the beginning of the book, there are several books that I use. I did a lot of research. I don’t know how I got it. Some of them it was so scanty, there was so little information that you can find but I managed to get enough.
JW: How did you even know the names of all the libraries and which towns had which libraries?
PB: Because I had a directory from the Department of Libraries with the hours and the addresses. They must put that out annually. Oh my goodness. It was a job but it was a fun thing. Trying to get enough when you went on a trip.
JW: So you’d plan out “I am going to go do this region”
PB: Yes. You’d plan ahead. You hear people stay about the Interstate “Oh it’s really ruined the beauty of our state” Let me tell you, we went all the little back roads to get there, but when we came home we can zoom home. I think our interstate is just beautiful. When people say that I think that’s real sour grapes. I was amazed at where these different libraries were.
JW: Did you ever get lost? This was before GPS and stuff?
PB: Glad you asked. If we got into a town and I didn’t know where the library was–they aren’t always in the center of town–ask any kid! They know. We’d ask two or three adults “Gee, I’m not sure…” Mostly if I called ahead and had someone meet me, I would get the directions. I can’t say we really got lost. And we probably didn’t do more than 4-5 a day. You couldn’t do too much. We tried to go the hours they were open so we didn’t have to bother them. There were some places like Vergennes, they have this wonderful dome and when you go inside this atrium, this big dome. Another one that has a dome is Fair Haven which is one of the four Carnegie Libraries. If you stand in a certain place at the desk and whisper it’s just amazing. There are a lot of little things at different libraries that were interesting and people would say “This is what you want to remember about this library” but I picture them all now… it’s fun to go through because it’s been a long time since we visited.
JW: Yeah. Did you say it took you four years?
PB: It took just about four years. Jack has color slides of all of these libraries. We’ve got to get them to the History Center or the Department of Libraries. Then he did the black and white. Some of these pictures were color. I also must mention my friend Leonard Spencer who restores old houses and paints them. He did a wonderful beginning thing. This is in the architectural overview. He came and he gave me a lot of information about the architecture which I would never have known.
“My childhood library was the Beckett Massachusetts Athenaeum. Very much a small town library with a past like many in this volume. I’ve continued to help maintain that library all of my adult life. It has seemed to me the right thing to do as it has for these thousands of other people great and small who have created and kept the Vermont libraries in this book. Our octogenarian librarian Mrs. Pell has been known to frighten small children with her gravelly voice. But like my grandfather, she read everything that came in and could be relied upon to greet with ‘Leonard, have I got just the book for you…’ Gentle lover of libraries, have I got just the book for you.”
JW: That gave me chills.
PB: Yeah isn’t it beautiful? So I was really lucky to have his help. He just was really happy because he loves this subject so much. But I couldn’t have done the architecture without him and I must give him credit.
JW: So just to review so you had the slides and everything and you had the show at Aldrich and that was sort of…
PB: That was really when Marianne had the idea. She did a lot of the workshops at DoL, wonderful person. Paul Carnahan also had to do with that. The slide show was how she knew about it. That was the beginning if it all. I had no intention of doing a book. By the way I designed my own cover. People ask “Why did you do that library and not the Aldrich [on the cover]?”
JW: How did you decide what went on the cover? It’s beautiful.
PB: Well, it fits good. A lot of the libraries were in town. I can’t think of any other library that has a gorgeous view behind it. It just seemed to be the one to go in there.
I think people are going to have fun with this passport project. Say they’re taking a trip somewhere… people have told me that they take my book with them and have people sign it. Did you ever get a copy yourself?
JW: This is the library’s copy I don’t have my own copy. It’s funny it opens right up to Kellogg Hubbard.
PB: It should, sure.
JW: I’ve worked a long time at the Joslyn library in Waitsfield, 2009-2014.
PB: Did they get an addition there?
JW: Not yet but hopefully. The bottom of that library is the town office but they’re moving out It’s been a lot of different things, it’s been the post office once. The plan is to move into the basement.
PB: That’s kind of what Aldrich did with the kids’ room and that makes good sense. Have it all in one building. That is a nice little library, one of the older ones.
JW: When I was working there we had our 100th anniversary…. I started working at Kellogg-Hubbard last summer part time.
PB: I’ll tell you an interesting story about the Aldrich and Kellogg. When I fist started working, there was a lot of competition between Montpelier and barre, a lot of it in sports, very very strong. There was a lot of feeling because we were the blue collar town and they were the white collar town. There was a snobbishness to it. The librarian I worked for of the old school–I don;t think they really had much to do with each other, you know?–she went to the VLA meeting and took a trustee but none of the library staff ever went or anything. One day a woman came in and Mrs. Brown said “We haven’t seen you in quite a while” “Well you know you can use the Keellog-Hubbard library free of charge if you work in Washington County” When we first came in ’63 that was the way it was set up. So we would go there too, they had a great little children’s room, and a stereopticon viewer which Russell loved, those things with the double picture. And so the woman kind of say “Well I’ve been going to the Kellogg-Hubbard because I’ve been working in Montpelier” and “waah” I could see Mrs Brown didn’t say anything but I knew she was gritting her teeth. Times have really changed. That was something that when we moved here it was definitely still a lot of … now so many people in Barre are working
JW: It’s still a little bit like that though. I mean I’ve only lived in Montpelier for six years but my kids have picked up on it. With the sports it’s very competitive.
PB: Anyway the Barre Montpelier story is very interesting and it would make a good story if someone wanted to write it. Did you see today’s paper? Well you’re going to have to see it and you’re going to have to buy it. There’s an article on Hubbard in there….