An A-No.-1 Library That Came in a Truck
SOME of our big area consolidated high schools face disgrace because their libraries are inadequate. The directors of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges are cracking down and "accreditation" is about to become "probation."Shucks. I know all about that. It was my privilege, some years ago now, to lift such an impoverished high school to A-No.-1 literacy rating by a simple generous gesture that cost me $5. This town I helped had built a brand-spanking-new high school, and it had a fine big room in it with a sign on the door that said LIBRARY. But for some reason nobody had provided any books for that room. Everything else was taken care of. No expense was spared. There was even a closet off the custodian's suite where the Latin stu dent had his classes. And around the girls' field hockey complex was a bridle path through the lovely wooded acres. But without books in the library, accreditation was denied. Now, just before this came to light I had been over to New Gloucester to see my cousin, and on the way home I had chanced upon an auction. This was back before rimwracked washstands had become valuable antiques, and this was one of those country auctions that signaled the end of a family - nobody to carry on and the accumulation of generations up for sale. When the goods and chattels were gone, the land and buildings would be put up for bid. I pulled my pickup truck off into the field and walked toward t he crowd. The auctioneer had a Westphalia separator up to $13 and was trying to get $13.50. I didn't see anything amongst the piled-up items that I could use, and now the auctioneer said, "And if those who are interested will step inside the house, I'll sell Mr. Coffin's fine library." The separator had gone for $13.25. The corner room in the house was perhaps 10 by 10, maybe 12 by 12, and except for the door and windows was all shelved. The shelves were full of books, and more were stacked on the floor. There was Mr. Coffin's armchair with its stand and Reo kerosene lamp. I hadn't known Mr. Coffin, but I liked this evidence of his having been a farmer and a scholar. There wasn't time to look at many of the books, but I did see the seven-volume Rollins's history of the world. Tom Mallett, who dabbled in old books, had t old me he was looking for a Rollins's. I noticed, too, the Papers and Messages of the Presidents, which college students sold on commission during the summer. About 3 feet of 'em. Then the auctioneer asked for a bid. Nobody made an offer, and thinking Mr. Coffin deserved something I lifted my hand, showing five. The auctioneer said, "Sold to the young man with the part in his hair for $5, and now we can return to the items outside." I brought my pickup load of books home and stacked them in the shed to await perusal. It has been said that a man can be told by what he reads, but Mr. Coffin remains elusive. The Rollins's history books were worth my $5, and the rest made no particular pattern of erudition. I had everything Zane Grey ever wrote, and that includes his baseball stories for boys - about which the Oxford Companion to American Literature knows nothing. I remember I read "The Shortstop" again. I had the complete Joseph C. Lin coln. I had Frank Merriwell, and all of Horatio Alger Jr. - some 125 versions of the same story about a good boy who did well. I had all of Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth, and I recall mixed among 'em was a gem called "Confessions of a Bellhop." Mr. Coffin seemed to show no favorites. So just about now the new high school needed books for its empty library room, and the pupils made the rounds. I told the youngsters to put Mr. Coffin back in my pickup, and I delivered his library to the schoolhouse. I kept back a few - one of them a thick volume titled "One Thousand and One Ways to Make Money." It was a fascinating book. It included details on every swindle known to crooked mankind. I felt a high school library shouldn't include that. Along with my 600 books the town came up with as ma ny more, and lo! the school now had a library and it was readily accredited by the alert directors of the N. E. Ass'n of S. & C. Shucks.