Friday, July 22, 2011

Big Little Library

The main library room was crowded. Seven people: four adults, including the director, and three boys sitting at the public access computers.

Frances Fairchild, Chazy Public Library Director, was ensconced behind her desk, coordinating the slow-motion maelstrom encroaching on her center of operations. Everything was organized as best as possible when dealing with a total area approximately sixteen by sixteen feet square. Books, DVDs, paperwork, snail mail -- the daily IN-OUT load concentrated. There was no room for chaos.

Key word: compact. The interior was maximized for shelving, the walls from floor to ceiling crammed with books. This was hobbit small: quaint but for a big guy like me, a little confining.

Camera in hand I moved into the adjacent children's room that happened to be empty at the moment. Ten active kids could easy fill up the room. I carefully inched back into a corner to get the best view. No telephoto shots here. Strictly wide angle all the way. And even then I couldn't squeeze it all in. Extravagantly rich women had walk-in closets larger than this. While neat and charming, the children's room couldn't accommodate the Imelda Marcos shoe collection.

Despite its overall physical size the little library was still providing a great service to the village of Chazy. The building was originally the law office of Julius Caesar Hubbell. According to A History of the Town of Chazy, Clinton County, New York by Sullivan and Martin, J.C. Hubbell was the first lawyer to pass the bar exam in the county way back in 1808. His office was built on property next to his home, opening for business in the spring of 1812. His house, also made of stone, still stands in the village.

Since the small library building is easy to miss while driving through Chazy -- even with a couple of signs outside explaining its function -- maybe more could be done to attract attention. For example, with his house next door, a billboard truthfully stating JULIUS CAESAR SLEPT HERE. Or a banner stretched across the library facade proclaiming: I CAME, I SAW, I READ. On second thought, maybe not...

It was a rough time back when J.C. Hubbell practiced law. Alcohol fueled many a fight among hard-working locals, thus leading to a brisk trade for J.C. with assault and battery cases. (Black-and-blue put him in the black.) Normal operation of the law office was interrupted during the War of 1812 with British or American soldiers occupying his building, depending upon who kicked who in the backside during battle.

One of J.C.'s grandsons, Edmund Seymour, initiated the effort in 1901 to establish the Chazy Public Library in the Hubbell Law Office. What worked well as an office became over the years too limiting for the needs of a growing library.

Returning to the main room I had a few questions for the director. I didn't ask her if she was claustrophobic. Sometimes people take my humor the wrong way.

If a movie casting director needed a bespectacled white-haired woman librarian, Frances Fairchild would fit the role. But only as a calm, friendly one (not one of those crabby "Shhh! Quiet!" - "You kids get off my library lawn!" types). Since 1988 she has been the anchor in the information/media ocean.

She explained a new library is in the works. A larger building in another nearby location was being renovated to provide three times the space. The historic building had been the office of Dr. George W. Clark who left it in his will to the Chazy Public Library Board of Trustees. According to Frances they hope the new library on Fiske Street will be open by Thanksgiving or Christmas this year.

In the past the library had to hold public events in the town hall, even outside in the town hall garden. The new location will eventually have a basement floor to handle such get-togethers.

But despite all the space limitations she has dealt with, Frances says she will miss the quaint smallness of the old library. It has a charm hard to duplicate in a bigger building.

Charming is never claustrophobic.

For more information: or email Frances Fairchild:

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