By Virgil Paggen
Not long after I moved with my family to North Granby, I happened upon the Frederick H. Cossitt Library, a small outpost in comparison with the West Hartford library I previously frequented. It didn’t take long for Margaret Vastoff, librarian, to acquaint me with all that Cossitt offered; it quickly became a valued resource.
Among the 50 states, Connecticut ranks 48th in size; only Delaware and Rhode Island are smaller. However, with more than 260 public libraries, I found that Connecticut ranks among the highest in density of libraries per square mile. Nearly half of these libraries participated in this year’s Passport to Connecticut Libraries Program. The program, held during April this year, encouraged patrons to become better acquainted with Connecticut libraries and to explore the information and services they provide.
I began by searching the internet to locate selected libraries and to plan a route between them. I packed a lunch, gathered my wife and set out to explore a number of these citadels of information. It became a mini-vacation as we discovered pleasant byways and scenic vistas on roads not previously traveled despite having lived in Connecticut for decades. We chose routes between in-land libraries on some days, on another we visited libraries bordering Long Island Sound, walked the beach at Hammonasset and savored a seafood dinner at Lenny and Joe’s.
We toured libraries of many sizes, ages and shapes and, like people, most libraries have expanded with age. The oldest libraries we visited were constructed in the late 1800s (Norfolk, North Granby), others were contemporary (Groton, Windsor Locks, Enfield). I was fascinated by the standout architecture of the Cragin Memorial Library in Colchester; I will visit it again.
In Ellington we discovered the Hall Memorial Library nestled against a quaint graveyard and equipped with antique stained glass windows. We found an interesting feature, the Maker Space Room, at the Farmington library; there I can scan 35mm slides or explore 3D solid modeling while my wife can learn computer-aided embroidery. I was pleased to find that every issue of Fine Woodworking is available at the Canton Library, a rarity since most libraries retain periodicals for only a year or two. We were impressed by the extensive genealogy resources housed in the Beardsley and Memorial Library in Winsted. I had to pause and enjoy the humor of an algebra textbook prominently displayed under the ‘Adult Non-Fiction’ classification at the Somers Library and the inspired response that the oldest item in another library was the Dewey Decimal system.
I was intrigued to learn from the March 1915 National Geographic Magazine at the Frederick H. Cossitt Library that James Smithson, a Brit who never set foot on American soil, bequeathed a half-million dollars to “create an institution for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” His legacy is the Smithsonian Institution, which founded the science of meteorology, began the standard-time, signal transmission used in railroad operation, and fostered the science of aeronautics.
I found it universally true that librarians are outgoing, gladly answering questions and extolling attributes of their libraries. Each library has its own personality in its programs and offerings yet all satisfy the same purpose—sharing information. I found another trait common among libraries but especially true in the Granby libraries; our librarians and volunteers are responsive to patron needs, relentless in pursuit of a requested book and promote a congenial, professional atmosphere.
Our Passport travels confirmed that children and teens are also well served by all libraries. Their inviting spaces are filled with inspiring, artistic and creative works such as the full-size Star Wars R2-D2 model we noticed in the Farmington Library.
As we found each library to be unique, so also are the contents making the Passport adventure eminently rewarding. But a Passport program isn’t necessary to reap the rewards of a day or two spent exploring these bastions of knowledge and to revel in the scenic Connecticut byways connecting them. Happy reading!
Note from the Director of Libraries Granby issued 191 “library passports” and a total of 273 patrons participated in the month-long program. One hundred, twenty-four Connecticut libraries participated in this year’s Passport program as a way to celebrate National Library Week; this program was sponsored by the Public Libraries section of the Connecticut Library Association.