In the eyes of a 9-year-old, our city library was intimidating just from its sheer size.
There was one gigantic room, separated into halves by the librarian’s desk in the middle. On the left was the children’s section, three walls stacked with shelves of books from floor to ceiling. We never bothered to go over to the right side 60-some years ago, but we understood that was the adults’ section with more books stacked on shelves from floor to ceiling.
Could anyone read all of those words in a lifetime?
We gave it our best effort. My friend Duane Klarich and I didn’t just read books, we devoured them.
What else was there to do in the evening or on a quiet summer afternoon back in the late 1940s? Television was only a dream that didn’t come true in our area until the early ’50s. There were no computer or video games or other mindless attractions for young minds. Books were the best diversion.
When you checked out a book, you could keep it for up to two weeks. Late returns were fined at 10 cents a day. I never had to pay a fine because I usually read my book that same day and returned it next day, checking out another. After a while, Duane informed me that we could check out two books at a time, which normally led to trips to the library every other day. Occasionally, I would read both books in one day and have to make another trip to the library the next day.
I started out with the Oz books, probably the Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Baum went on to write 14 books about this wonderland in a far, faraway place. I read all of them. Other authors, including Robert J. Evans and Ruth Plumly Thompson, wrote an additional 26 books. I didn’t read all of them, but I read the dozen or more on the shelf at our library.
Later, I discovered biographies of American heroes, authors and inventors written to appeal to young readers. About half of each book was about the younger years of Thomas Edison or George Washington or Eli Whitney, making the biographies more appealing to young readers. I remember searching the orange covers for a familiar name. The Judy Bolton novels were my next conquest. I followed the girl detective from her youth to her teen-age years to adulthood. Naturally, I moved on to the Nancy Drew mysteries.
Eventually, I learned that the actual name of our library was the Carnegie Library, named after Andrew Carnegie, a generous millionaire who helped educate America. A Scottish-American industrialist who made a fortune in the steel industry, Carnegie decided at age 65 to spend the rest of his days helping others. His philanthropic work helped more than 2,800 libraries open across the country.
A grant of $15,000 for a library in Red Lodge was approved on June 11, 1914. Our Carnegie Library opened in 1920.
Marion Adams, who started at the library in 1924 was the librarian when I started checking out the Oz books. Her husband Edwin was the doctor who took out most our tonsils and cured our colds for four decades. Mrs. Adams sat at her desk between the adult and children’s sections and was always helpful when we were looking for a certain book. She was a kind lady, but she also was proficient at the (ital) “Shhssssshh” (end ital) of librarians of that era.
Her adopted son Bob Moran, who taught French and English when I was in high school, worked as her assistant for 10 years when his mother’s health failed. He became the official librarian in 1965, retiring in 2005 after 50 years of wonderful service.
Bob was reluctant to add computers when they became a major part of our culture. After all, the computer between his two shoulders had more gigabytes of memory than most computers at that time. It didn’t matter if you came to the library weekly or every other year. Bob knew what you liked to read and volunteered the names of authors and books that he thought you would like. He was always right. To the many students in Red Lodge schools, the real name of the library was “Bob’s Library.”
Bob Moran became a sort of local legend in Red Lodge but was always humble. “What I enjoyed most was working with the community I was able to serve,” he says about his 50 years at Bob’s Library.
Bob was still behind the desk when I moved back to Red Lodge, offering suggested readings and eager to listen to my stories. That was no surprise.
The surprise was the building itself, with an addition added to the rear in 1992, through a donation from brothers Herb and Ahti Koski. Amazingly, they were able to match the bricks in the original section more than 50 years later. That original section, I realized, wasn’t that huge after all. In fact it seemed quite small.
Small in size, maybe, but huge in its contributions to our town.