I guess you could say that the citizens “beat a path to its door.” I’m reminded of a saying that was on the wall in the office at the library’s third location. It reads, “I am the Library. I am neither walls nor shelves, nor even books that stand in rows. I am the wisdom of the universe captured and arranged for you. I am an open door. Enter.” The author is unknown. He would probably be surprised at the scope of today’s libraries and the changes in them.
We’ll be “Tracking the Changes” as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Public Library on June 8. We’ll see exhibits that explain those changes while also experiencing those elements that remain, elements that make the public library one of our society’s most fundamental institutions.
In 1964, Woodstock’s population was somewhere under 800. I’m still impressed with the enormity of the task. There was a newly formed Woodstock Junior Woman’s Club that needed a project, and Elizabeth Johnston mentored them through the process of organizing the book drive and jumping through the hoops of legalities and arranging funding to make their dream a reality.
The first location of the library was in the southernmost half of the Johnston Building on what we then called South Main Street. When we arrived in June 1965, with three little girls and our puppy dog, we quickly discovered the library.
It was so exciting for the girls to choose books and to sign their names on the card that was in a little pocket inside the front cover. The library lady, Mrs. Poor, used a rubber stamp to add the due date beside their name. Then she kept the card for her record, and stamped the due date on a slip attached to the book so we would remember when it must be returned.
Ah. Life was good. As we browsed the shelves for something to read, we could look inside any book to see who else had signed the cards to check out the books. The whole world could know that I had read James Michener’s latest book, or that my neighbor had checked out a cookbook; or, get this, E. T. Booth had checked out some boring, philosophical tome. Can you imagine that happening in today’s world?
The interesting aspect of that is that no one seemed to mind. Eventually, we would have to play the numbers game. We were issued little patron cards with metal, numbered plates to be used instead of our signature. You could snoop only if you knew somebody’s number.
The date due stamp was phased out when a machine took over. It was designed to cut a notch and stamp a date and patron number on the book cards. (That machine will be a part of the upcoming exhibit at the library.)
The library was open 15 hours weekly at first, but hours and services increased as time went on. It would become a part of the Sequoyah Regional Library System, joining Pickens and Gilmer counties and the R. T. Jones Memorial Library in Canton, where the system headquarters are located. Its location would change as growth demanded and as Smith and Elizabeth Johnston made property available.
As technology changed, so did the methods of processing and circulating materials and the rather involved system of cataloging. The old tried-and-true card catalog was eventually phased out. We could no longer flip through the cards for a title or author or subject, and go to the shelves to find those magic numbers on the very book we needed.
Later, we would discover the magic was not in the cards, it was in the numbers, where it still is. Even in the computer, 975.8 is still Georgia History, and 917.58 is still Georgia Geography. And, as friend Mary Hood lovingly reminds me, “I still believe in 398.2,” that very magic subject of folk tales and make-believe where the likes of Uncle Remus and Cinderella and Grimm’s Fairy Tales reside.
And so we celebrate. It’s been a wonderful 50 years, and Sunday we will gather to reminisce, to see and hear and experience all that makes our library Woodstock’s treasure. Authors Mary Hood and Carmen Agra Deedy will be with us, along with Elm Street Players and library mascot Elroy the Lion Engineer.
There will be children’s activities and refreshments, and we will recognize again our founder Elizabeth Johnston. Come join us. Festivities begin at 3 p.m. at the library and continue until 5 p.m.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.