Ahhh — nostalgia! That wistful sentimental longing for places and people belonging to the past. Regardless of age or position in life, we all have a heart full of memories clinging to the way things used to be. Brian Mittge’s August 10 commentary took us back to those wistful days of small, community, volunteer-staffed libraries, that warm “center, filled with knowledge that matters and people that can be trusted.”

It is truly wonderful to harken back to that home-grown space filled with nurturing volunteers, and community spirit; that place which has a heart. Such is Mittge’s description of the Toledo library, a building donated by generous citizens, staffed with volunteers, a place where they understand history and moral values. Who wouldn’t want to go back?

Then, let’s go back to the years 1883 to 1929, when Andrew Carnegie determined the best way to share his wealth was to build libraries. And build he did — 2,509 throughout the USA. The good news is, back in 1910, one of those libraries was in Chehalis, filled, of course, with the media of the day, books!

Fast forward 109 years, to 2019. Carnegie could never have imagined the changes: people working in cities far from home, video chatting with friends and relatives around the world, ordering items online without traveling to a store, advances in health care, commercial airlines, complex tax forms. Yikes! Like it or not, it is here to stay, this new global nostalgia.

The good news is, libraries have also changed. Are there still books? Yes! Lots of them. But you can now check them out online from home, reserve them in advance, read them digitally, even listen to them. If our local branch doesn’t have a copy, don’t despair, just put in a request for an interlibrary loan. Thankfully, for us technology has “crept in.”

In order to manage all this change, a regional library system was established — Timberland in our case. Yes, they recently ignited a firestorm by suggesting the closure of libraries but it was hardly a “mindset.”

Even they now admit this was not a particularly wise budget saving idea, probably a blunder. However, since then, their turnaround efforts have been nothing short of amazing — scheduling meetings in local branches to listen, yes actually listen, to local folk’s vision of libraries as community. Marvelous ideas have resulted!

What can you expect from our very local Chehalis library these days — all with your library card? You want resources? Of course, there are shelves filled with books, lots of them!  But are you also familiar with ebooks, audiobooks, magazines and newspapers (hard copies and online), movies and music, reference databases (maps, food, travel, world history, genealogy), tutorials (legal forms, learn a language, fill out taxes, auto repair, budgeting, tech skills). Vision or hearing impaired? Check out assistive devices.

But wait, you want community? Reserve a room for your next meeting and while you’re there, pick up a monthly calendar of events. Take advantage of the open invitation to participate in author talks (Thank you Brian Mittge for sharing your story of Centralia’s George Washington), share in Hispanic celebrations, Japanese calligraphy, free crafts, and magic shows. Come learn about reptiles, Bigfoot and NW salmon. Bring your babies, your toddlers, your school age kiddos, your teens, and yourself. Don’t see what interests you? Feel free to offer a suggestion to staff — they listen!

Those staff members with professional library degrees do indeed listen. They are talented, trustworthy and devoted to helping us navigate the wonders of a modern library. Are they “homegrown?” Some but not all. However, all have an invested interest in us, their patrons, to provide the very best service.

In 2008 Chehalis dedicated a newly updated library building in a style honoring its Carnegie origins. Community effort? You bet! Designed by architect Norm Pfaff, with major funding by Orin Smith both local men, who, growing up in this community, desired to “give back.” When you enter the library, pause to look at the wall to your right — read the names of local community donors who also desired to “give back.”

Orin Smith reminisced, “When it (the old building) went down, I had a feeling of nostalgia, but I don’t feel bad about it anymore. This building is so warm and welcoming, just the tone I wanted to strike with it.” His mother, Vernetta, also said, “I’m totally overwhelmed by the love of the people and the excitement, and the beauty of the building, and the joy the people are feeling.” By the way, Orin named this branch after his Mom: “Vernetta Smith Chehalis Timberland Library.”

Thank you, Andrew Carnegie, Orin Smith, Norm Pfaff, Bill and Pat Caldwell, as well as professional staff, local volunteers and donors, for your devotion to libraries and keeping community alive. Embrace nostalgia — with it we fondly look back but also anticipate the future. It’s all good.

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