|Title||The "Rosemary PTA" Library Story, Founded 1939|
|Date||Unknown, prior to 1989|
The "Rosemary PTA" Library Story, Founded 1939
by Marion Molland
History of P.T.A. 1939-1968
At some time during the mid-nineteen thirties, Mrs. Dean Dinwoodey, who was working on a Carnegie Foundation study of the teaching of English usage, visited the John Eaton Elementary School on 34th Street in Cleveland Park. As she recalls it, she walked into "a sunny room full of children and books." This was the school library, and at that time it was absolutely unique in the Washington Maryland Virginia area.
Mrs. Dinwoodey decided then and there when her children entered school this was something they, too, must have. Accordingly when her first child started kindergarten and she volunteered for a P.T.A. assignment, she offered to organize a school library.
Perhaps this sounded like just one more committee to keep track of; at any rate the president of the P.T.A. turned down the offer. "Wait until you are president," she told Mrs. Dinwoodey, "and then you can try it."
So when Mrs. Dinwoodey was elected president of the P.T.A. in 1939, her first goal was a school library. Luck was with her in three important respects. First, there was space for a library in the building. Fewer then half the classrooms in the east wing were needed for classes; some of the extra rooms were used for music, art and science. Second, both Mrs. Rose, the principal, and Dr. Broome, the county superintendent of schools, were interested and helpful. And third, among the mothers available for the first P.T.A. library committee were two experienced professional librarians.
Mrs. Rose agreed to let the P.T.A. set up a library in the unused room next to the kindergarten on the first floor of the east wing if Dr. Broome would give his consent. Mrs. Dinwoodey went out to Rockville to talk to Dr. Broome. Dr. Broome gave his permission; more, he offered to help as much as possible "if you will make it a service rather than just a room."
So Mrs. Dinwoodey returned with the official go-ahead and appointed Mrs. Julian Branch chairman of the first P.T.A. library committee. And, as Mrs. Dinwoodey puts it, "she organized a powerful committee." Both Mrs. Branch and Mrs. Arthur Palmer, who succeeded Mrs. Branch as chairman two years later, were librarians with years of experience in the D.C. library system but neither had specialized in children's work. Now they, and the other mothers on the committee, had the promise of money and support from the P.T.A. and an empty room to transform into a children's library.
It was a tremendous undertaking. Available money must be stretched as far as possible - but nobody yet knew how much money would be available. The empty room must be furnished, not only with tables, chairs and bookshelves, but also with the necessary library equipment of filing cases and card catalogues. And, of course, books.
Reference books first, but which ones and how many? And after that, non fiction to supplement classroom textbooks, and after that at least a beginning of a basic fiction collection. Then there was the matter of magazines; a careful list was made up to be subscribed to. But subscriptions do not provide back numbers so mothers and fathers picked through Salvation Army bins for old copies of the National Geographic; eventually they built up the complete file, from the very first number, which the library still has, now bound and indexed.
It took nearly two years of planning and work before the library was ready to open - and then it opened in a different place from that originally planned. The Bethesda Chevy Chase Cooperative Nursery School had moved into the empty first floor classroom. Dr. Broome, considerably in advance of his time, had decided that pre-school experience was important enough to permit a mothers' non profit cooperative to occupy school space. So it was in a large classroom on the second floor of the east wing that the library finally opened its doors.
The book collection was necessarily small to start with, but very carefully selected. Mrs. Rose and the teachers in the school all helped with suggestions in drawing up the lists of books to be purchased, and the committee also worked closely with Miss Ethel Bubb, head of children's services in the D.C. library system. Some books were donated by children and parents and lists of "wanted" books were posted in each classroom. An extensive picture collection, catalogued according to subjects, was put together and made available for reference and classroom use. The Board of Education supplied two filing cases, a magazine rack and some chairs. The bookcases, specially built to fit along the wall under the windows, were constructed by the boys in the high school manual training shop. Money raised by the P.T.A. and by the children in the school paid for the material in the bookcases, a large filing cabinet, some chairs and, of course, the major part of the book collection. For the tall windows, mothers made and hung bright checked curtains of semi transparent material that cut glare and let in light. Flower vases were donated; so were pictures, among them a collection of foreign travel posters picked up abroad by Mrs. Rose.
Following the April, 1941 P.T.A. meeting, the members were invited to inspect the library for the first time, with the library committee mothers acting as hostesses. Shortly afterwards, _The Bethesda Journal_ (May 2, 1941) ran a feature story with a three column picture about the library. There, in the picture, is the big filing cabinet in the corner with a vase of forsythia on it; on the small tables are vases of jonquils and lilacs; there are the window curtains, moving in a light breeze at the open windows, and the magazine rack in front of the radiator (_Life_, _The American Boy_,_ Asia_, _Nature and Children's Activities_ can be identified), and the travel posters on the blackboard wall. And there are Mrs. Rose and two teachers and seven children, some standing, some sitting, but every one carefully posed with his nose buried in a book. And, finally, there are the BOOKS, scattered negligently about on the tables and propped sidewise on the shelves so as to take up as much room as possible: _Winnie the Pooh_, _The Dutch Twins_, a book about penguins and a book about Pasteur can be identified by their jackets.
There, in fact, is Mrs. Dinwoodey's "sunny room full of children and books" come to life.
Then, as later, it took many mothers to staff the library, which was kept open every day during school hours. During the library's first years no attempt was made to keep the library open before or after school and individual children were not permitted to check out books. Regular weekly library hours were scheduled for each class during which the children became familiar with the use of the catalogue and the reference books and could also browse around the shelves and read "for fun." Even the nursery school down on the first floor had its regular scheduled library hours. "Library day" was a high point in the week, as the three and four year olds were shepherded up the stairs and sat down on the floor by the bookshelves. Then a nursery school mother showed the pictures and read, or told the story from one of the big, brightly illustrated "easy" books that occupied special shelves of their own. The music room was next door, so occasionally there was the faint, pleasant accompaniment of piano, record player, choral singing or Miss Heavener's tonette band.
The teachers could check out as many books as they chose and take them back to their classrooms. Books were kept on "library tables" in each room. Some were used to supplement regular classroom work; some for free reading time. Many teachers regularly read aloud to their classes. Some teachers might permit some children to take a book home overnight, but it was still the teacher who was responsible for getting the books back to the library.
Teachers, like people, come in all varieties, so they varied in the kind and amount of use they made of the library, but they all remember it with pleasure and gratitude. Mrs. Guy, for instance, who encouraged outside reading even in her first and second grade classes, was always complaining that not enough books were being written that these beginning readers could, and would, read. She set out to remedy this lack herself and even before she retired from teaching, she was a published author; she now has an impressive list of books to her credit.
It is easy sometimes to forget the middle initial in P.T.A.; after all, the parents outnumber the teachers about 30-1. But this library was very much a parent-teacher venture. Teachers were especially helpful in submitting lists of books that would be valuable at the different grade levels; during the few intervals when the roster of mothers provided no trained librarian to serve on the library committee, the library mothers relied heavily on the teachers' suggestions. Mrs. Irvine, an active library mother before she returned to teaching in the school, remembers driving down to the Washington News Company with the teachers' list in her pocket, ordering out-of-stock books, and driving back with the ones she could find on the shelves.
When the library opened the children had, to sit at very small school desks or tables, probably surplus from some storeroom. These were gradually replaced, as often as the budget would stand it, by something much better. Mothers made the rounds of second-hand furniture stores, in the city and bought big, old, round dining room tables. These were cut down to child-height by sawing sections out of the pedestal bases. Mothers then attacked the dirty varnished tops with steel wool and elbow grease - and behold, beautiful round library tables, seating eight or more children apiece, with room in the middle for plenty of books. When, years later, these in turn were replaced by proper library tables, there were some mothers who hated to see them go. There is both spaciousness and togetherness about a round table that no oblong table can provide. Those old dining room tables, incidentally, always came complete with many extra extension leaves. Out of some of these Mrs. Palmer's husband contrived a wide, sloping, shelf table at which small children could stand to turn the pages of. the extra large picture books. Other leaves came in handy from time to time as material for other library furnishings.
Interested librarians and educators came from as far away as Baltimore to visit the pioneer library. Nearby elementary schools, anxious for advice on setting up their own libraries, sent delegations. Within its first three years of existence, the Rosemary library had served as a model for P.T.A. libraries at the Bradley, Bethesda and Somerset schools. A new library wing was opened at Leland Junior High, and Mrs. Bender, the librarian there, reported that she could always tell which children came from Rosemary: they were the ones who already knew how to use a library and could be put right to work as library assistants.
Dr. Broome came down occasionally from Rockville to see how things were going. On one, of his first visits he noted that the library was using an elderly, donated set of the Book of Knowledge and suggested that it really needed an up to date encyclopedia. This was no news to the library committee, but the price of a new encyclopedia would have flattened the entire budget for a year. Dr. Broome promised to see what he could do about it. The result was an offer from the County Board of Education to pay for an encyclopedia of the committee's choice. Again the committee consulted with Miss Bubb and it was decided that the World Book was the best children's encyclopedia on the market - and in due course a handsome new set made its appearance on the reference shelves.
Mrs. Palmer, who succeeded Mrs. Branch as chairman, served from the fall of 1941 through the spring of 1945. These were the war years, of course, with black-out curtains at school windows and heavy tape criss-crossed on the panes, air raid drills - and shortages of paper in the publishing business. Nevertheless the work of adding to the book collection went steadily on. By the spring of 1944 there were nearly a thousand books on the shelves: 261 books of fiction, 164 "easy books" for the primary grades, and 448 non-fiction titles besides the reference books.
Nearly all the money for book purchases still came from the P.T.A., raised from dues, book sales, card parties, fashion shows and magazine subscriptions. Although the money was allocated from the P.T.A. general fund, certain fund-raising efforts were specifically dedicated to library use.
One such effort deserves special mention, not only because it contributed so much to the library but also because it derived so much from the library. In 1941 Mrs. Agnes Kain came to the school to teach in the upper grades and remained until 1949 when she left to become a school principal. She founded and directed the Creative Club which met after school every Wednesday and was open to any interested child from the fourth through the sixth grades. With Mrs. Kain's guidance this group put on plays and entertainments every year in the long, narrow auditorium next door to the cafeteria. The members were insatiable users of the school library; they read and read, and out of their reading came suggestions for books which might be the basis of the next play. Then with Mrs. Kain's help they dramatized the stories themselves, chose parts, designed and constructed scenery, collected props, rigged up costumes and put on plays, sometimes with musical accompaniments. There was something for everyone, no matter what his interest or talent. Box office receipts went to the P.T.A. earmarked for the library.
The first full fledged play, based on _Monroe Leaf's Ferdinand_, was presented in the winter of 1941 42, with sets and costumes suggested by Robert Lawson's illustrations. Nobody who saw it ever forgot it. There went Ferdinand off to the bull fight in Madrid. He was seated in a ricketty two-wheeled cart, just like the one in the illustration, jiggling and jolting up and down; the big wheels turned rapidly, activated by child-power from behind. The cart was actually stationary but behind it the scenery flashed briskly past, painted on some kind of material wound spoolwise out of sight at the sides; by and by the same scenery flashed briskly past again - but no matter. The impression of rapid travel over a bumpy road was irresistible and the scene brought down the house.
Other plays, followed in other years, each one book based and each a gem of its kind: _Ali Baba_,_ Rip Van Winkle_,_ Aladdin_, _The Peterkin Papers and many others_.
Along with the box office take, members of the Creative Club forwarded to the P.T.A. suggestions for new books which they hoped the library committee would buy, and when the new books arrived, they were set out on display in the library.
One detailed financial statement seems to have survived the years. In 1947, when Mrs. Ruckel was library chairman, the following money was earned for the P.T.A., much of it ending up as library books:
$303.62 from Creative Club play, _The Sultan Learns to read_. 294.52 from P.T.A. book sale.
94.20 from a "silver tea" in the library.
From the very first years the P.T.A. had been holding book sales, usually during Book Week, for the benefit of the library. This particular book sale was held all week in the library by the library committee mothers. Parents from each grade were invited on separate days to visit the library and select from book collections chosen especially with each grade level in mind. Some local authors were also corraled as an added attraction and the whole thing wound up with a bang at the P.T.A. meeting with a panel of fathers expatiating on "Fathers Look At Children's Books."
By this time the library was decorated with a series of cut-out book characters painted in bright colors and tacked around the walls above the blackboards. These in no way took the place of the frequently changed library exhibits on various themes or the children's own painting; rather they brightened the area just below the ceiling, too far up to be of value for detailed exhibits and reachable only by way of the janitor's highest ladder. Mrs. Sullivan, who was library chairman in 1946, asked the teachers to conduct a "favorite book" poll in each room. Each class discussed the books it liked and then took a vote on a favorite. Choices ranged from _The Little Engine That Could_ (kindergarten) through _Pinocchio_, _Stuart Little_, _ Mr. Popper's Penguins_ and others in the middle grades on up to _Tom Sawyer_,_ Caddie Woodlawn_, _Treasure Island_, _My Friend Flicka_ and_ Paul Bunyan_. It was a pretty distinguished list of the very best books of the time, all available in the library. It is probable that even without the library some of the children would have read, and perhaps owned, some of these books; but it is improbable that without the library practically all of the children would have read practically all of them.
The list was turned over to Mrs. Marion Holland, who drew up chosen characters on thick, heavy wallboard (left over from insulating the Holland attic) and cut them out and painted them.
Mr. Popper's Penguins (showing Mr. Popper with a couple of penguins on a leash, with the leash tangled around Mr. Popper's legs) presented a problem: the thin leash, cut out of wallboard, would have been too fragile to handle. So Mr. Topper and the penguins were each cut out separately and put together on the wall with real string. The ceiling was very high; the ladder both high and wobbly; but the mission was accomplished without casualties.
Then every single child in the school was asked to write a "thank you" letter to the artist. The letters were delivered in a large grocery carton and took a week to read with the leisurely attention they deserved. They disappeared years ago but a few lines can still be remembered verbatim:
"Thank you for the nice new pictures in the library especially as I understand they did not cost the school one cent."
"I do not see how you can draw so everything look so real. The realest thing is the string on Mr. Popper's penguins."
"The library looks beautiful. I used to o there and do my homework or read books, but now I just sit and look at the pictures on the walls."
And, of course, every year during Book Week and Library Week, classrooms, corridors, library and cafeteria blossomed out with the children's own paintings and drawings inspired by the books they were reading.
By the late nineteen-forties the post-war subdivision plague and the population explosion were catching up with the schools. One by one the extra rooms at Rosemary were turned over to classroom use. The nursery school left first and found quarters elsewhere. The music room, the art and science rooms all ceased to exist as such. Clearly the library would be the next to go - but where?
Meantime, while it was still in its original room, there was a special ceremony there. Mrs. Hose was about to retire after many years as principal of the rosemary school. Everyone was anxious to do something that would leave her name permanently in the school which had grown up under her direction. When she first became principal very many of the area children were sent into the District to the E.V. Brown School on Connecticut Avenue; by the time she retired many families were moving into the area for the purpose of sending their children to the Rosemary School. So, in recognition of her constant and enthusiastic support of the library, it was formally named the Anna P. Rose Library. There were speeches and the Creative Club put on a skit especially composed for the occasion. A small wooden plaque was lettered with the name and prominently displayed in the library; shortly afterwards it was replaced by a proper bronze-and- wood plaque.
Every classroom was now in use. The west wing basement contained the cafeteria; the auditorium adjoining it was soon to be partitioned into two sixth-grade classrooms. No auditorium- no more plays.
This left only the basement under the east wing, a dim cavernous area with a gritty cement floor and many pipes criss-crossing the ceiling. It had been used for air raid drills and rainy-day recesses. Then as now, the back corner contained the furnace room but in those days it was a coal furnace and a film of coal dust drifted out under the closed door.
But it was SPACE. Fathers and mothers rolled up their sleeves and went to work. The entire east side of the area was partitioned off; the lion's share of this space went to the library at the furnace room end; the remaining space went for a visual aids room. Then bookcases and furnishings had to be moved down the two flights of steps from the second floor and somehow adjusted to an entirely different set of spaces. The ceiling was much lower; insulation was peeling off the pipes; the light was terrible - the tiny ground - level windows were splattered with mud after every rain. There was no ventilation to speak of and the cozy proximity of the furnace beyond the end wall meant that for much of the year the room was unbearably hot.
Mrs. Clendenin, who took Mrs. Smoot's fourth grade when Mrs. Smoot became principal in February, 1948, remembers how pleased she was to learn that the school actually had a library and how long it seemed before she ever got a chance to use it because it was in the process of being moved. Mrs. Hunsberger, who was library chairman then, remembers that she chose the new pale yellow paint for the walls to reflect as much as possible of the inadequate light. Parents then did the actual painting; at the same time they also repainted the cafeteria. The county, busy building new schools, had little time or money to expend on old ones. Mrs. Hunsberger, her husband and small son assisted the janitor in carrying the books downstairs. And finally the picture cut-outs were pried off the upstairs walls, losing a few feet and fingers in the process, and reapplied downstairs in spaces they were never designed to fit. They used to fall off regularly, as the outside walls were cement and the thin new partition wasn't much of a nail - holder either. The Anna P. Rose library plaque was put up. The library was in business again.
In its new quarters the library inaugurated a new system: children were now permitted to charge out books individually and take them home for a week. This meant a complete overhaul of the charging system with thirty-plus cards per class to handle instead of only one teacher's card. A system of small fines for overdue books was instituted and the money used to purchase materials for book-mending. Soon the library was keeping open half an hour before and after school so that fast readers could take out and bring back books without waiting for their weekly scheduled library period.
At about this time, too, the program of reading aloud regularly to the lower grades was started, and it was a great success from the beginning. During these periods there were usually two mothers on duty, one at the desk to charge books in and out, collect fines and shelve books, the other to read aloud to the children grouped around her. There were always some mothers who had only the dimmest notion of the alphabet and frequently mis-filed cards but who were excellent readers-aloud; there were always some who were efficiency itself on the desk but self-conscious about reading aloud, so everything worked out very nicely.
Now that a teacher no longer had to charge out all the books for the class herself, she could send the children to the library instead of taking them. This was a chance to catch up on paper work in an empty classroom. Most teachers, however, still accompanied their classes to the library where they maintained unobtrusive discipline, helped the children with their book selection and often even seemed to be listening with pleasure to the reading aloud.
Now there were more books being circulated; more books to shelve, more books to mend - more of everything the joint was jumping. But it was worth it. Mothers remember this as a time of hard work, long hours and great satisfaction.
This year, for the first time, Miss Alice Robinson, a county library consultant, helped in overhauling and up-dating the book collection and arranged for the county to provide funds for book purchases - 50 cents per child per year at first. But the P.T.A. continued to be the dependable backbone of the library budget - and one of the first major expenditures in the basement room was for fluorescent lights.
P.T.A. book sales - now called Book Fairs - were still being held during library week in early November, subject to all the built-in hazards of these undertakings. when it comes to assembling a committee, choosing books, arranging publicity and luring a speaker, November is much too early in the school year. When it comes to delivering the promised book orders in time for Christmas, November is much too late in the calendar year.
The last Rosemary Book Fair was held in 1950 with Mrs. Betty Smith in charge. It was by far the largest and most elaborate ever attempted, earning about $1400, with an exceptionally comprehensive and well-chosen book selection to order from and a very distinguished guest speaker.
After this, the annual magazine subscription drive was substituted as the main money-making event of the F.T.A. year. It made money, too, but in a way it was too bad. There was no content to it. In spite of all the long drawn-out work and worry of a Book Fair, there was something right and satisfactory about assembling a great many good books in one place and having kids and parents look them over and talk them over and end up buying some of them. The kids usually got the books they wanted most, too. Now with the magazine drive, the magazines you wanted were never on the list and the ones you wanted least always seemed to earn the most money for the school. And then you saved money by subscribing for two years instead of one, and even more money by subscribing for five years instead of two - and all in such a good cause. So every year the renewals pushed farther and farther ahead into the future and shortly exceeded the normal life expectancy of the parent. Actually it was necessary only to survive until the last child left the school; this automatically transformed the subscription years from an infinite to a finite number and it was no longer advisable to dispose of your subscription to Popular Mechanics in your will.
For a couple of years Fun Fairs were fund-raising devices. Kids bought strips of tickets at the booths and. scattered all over the school grounds spending them. Dart throws, fortune telling, square dancing, baked goods, balloon busting, grab bags, pony rides - you name it, they had it. An evening meal was served in the cafeteria in two sittings; Mrs. Sowers and her staff prepared the food and the mothers served it and helped clean up afterwards. One year it rained. Everything had to be carried inside except the pony rides which were moved in under the Long Hall where the bicycles were normally parked. By closing time the whole school looked like the circus lot after a Saturday matinee. But an ad hoc committee of fathers spent most of the night cleaning up the mess and by morning every trace of it was gone.
Mrs. Thompson succeeded Mrs. Hunsberger as library chairman and remained until the opening of the new Rollingwood School transformed her into a Rollingwood - mother where her first act was to start a school library.
Mrs. Lundell took her place and it was while she was chairman that regular library tables were bought to replace the old, round oak tables. Light-colored tiling was finally laid over the old cement floor. The library had settled down into its basement room and made itself at home; by now there were many people who did not know it had ever been anywhere else.
Under the next two chairmen, Mrs. Phillips and Mrs. Duncan, a new system was set up for repairing damaged books which was continued for many years with great success. Mothers on the desk had always been asked to set aside damaged books for repair, but often these slipped through unnoticed, especially when they came in or went out in a crowd or children. Often a worn book was a popular book; that was how it got that way. A child returning it would hardly set it down before another child would snatch it up to take it out and it was yard not to let it go out "just one more time" unless it actually fell apart. At times there had been one mother responsible for the actual book-mending; at other times the job fell to what-ever mother could find the time. But now, with more books than ever circulating more rapidly than ever among more children than ever, something more efficient had, to be worked out.
Mrs. Boddie organized a Mothers' Workshop which met regularly one or two mornings a week; no classes were scheduled for these times so they had the library to themselves. They made regular shelf checks, making sure that every book was shelved where it belonged and at the same time inspecting it for damage. In this way they also located books whose cards showed that they had not been charged out for several years. These might be excellent books, perhaps with uninteresting; covers, which children had not found for themselves or had not been pointed toward. Then an effort was made to get the books into circulation. Or they might be out-of-date books, perhaps with small print, and in that case they were discarded. discards were sometimes sold for a few pennies to the children, sometimes put on the discard table with a sign: Mothers, help Yourselves. One mother helped herself to a copy of _The Hobbit _(at that time a nearly unknown book) and read it aloud to her own child and a few of the neighbors' children. They loved it; they told all their friends about this marvelous book; the friends then besieged the library demanding copies of it - and the mother was asked to return it.
Mrs. Boddie's Workshop mothers then sat around a table and went to work on the damaged books. They taped spines and jackets and mended torn pages with clear plastic glue. They became extremely expert repairmen and developed great ingenuity in keeping worn but loved books patched together until they could be replaced. Altogether the library shelves had never before been kept so shipshape.
The Workshop was only one instance of the division of labor that was developed in the library during the nineteen fifties. During much of that time Mrs. Nordbeck, a professional librarian, put and kept the files and catalogues in order and took charge of all the current book processing. Mrs. Millard was personnel chief; she rounded up numerous volunteer mothers (more than forty a year now worked regularly in the library) and kept the schedules running smoothly, substituted in emergencies and still found time to take a "reading aloud" period herself. This left Mrs. Levant free to concentrate on the selection and ordering of books. Besides spending a good deal of time in the library, she studied back lists and current reviews, often reading a book herself or trying it out on a suitable child before ordering it. She also instituted something new: a "free" period each day during which no classes were scheduled and teachers from any grade could permit children to come to the library to do research or charge books in and out. Some children were taking out and reading a book a day!
The library had now grown to 5000 volumes, all "live," well-selected books which put it above the minimum standard of five per pupil. Circulation figures showed that it was being used at a higher than "normal" rate. The county was by now allowing $1 per child for the purchase of books for school libraries.
The county money at that time had been allotted with the provision that it be spent before a certain date. (One year during this period the money, for a variety of reasons, had not yet been spent on the last day. A veteran library mother alerted to this, dashed to the Cucumber Book Shop and managed to buy or order for delivery, enough books from the list of wanted books to use up the money. She came out to find she was stuck with a parking ticket - but she felt it was time and money well spent.)
As the county became more heavily committed to school libraries, more regulations were necessary. So now county money must be spent only for books from county-approved "lists" which represented a consensus of many librarians; these were an invaluable guide to a library just being formed, especially if the parents concerned were not at home in the field of children's books.
Therefore, the county money was spent according to the county regulations, as discriminatingly as possible. Because of the need of ordering through Rockville, all this took time. Sometimes it was many months before the orders came back in the form of books.
But the P.T.A. money. That was money in the pocket. Armed with lists of their own and a wide knowledge of children's books and the particular children they were buying them for, Mrs. Levant and other library mothers haunted church bazaars, secondhand bookshops, rummage sales. Opening day of one Vassar Book Sale found them on their hands and knees under the tables, picking through boxes of yet un-packed books in order to get first choice. Newly-published books, and particularly science books, must be ordered new; but the children's classics, both old and new, that are the lifeblood of a good library could be picked up second hand, in strong handsome bindings with excellent illustrations. Never did a P.T.A. get so much for its money. And, best of all, these books could be carted back in somebody's station wagon, processed, and out on the shelves within a week!
The Rosemary library now ranked as one of the best stocked, best kept, best run and best used elementary school libraries in the United States.
But there was a cloud on the horizon. The space squeeze had become truly desperate. Completion of new schools in North Chevy Chase and Rollingwood provided only momentary relief. Enrollment climbed steadily, twenty to thirty pupils a year.
There seemed to be no plans in Rockville to do anything about it, either. School officials had their hands full trying to keep up with the mushrooming subdivisions that were gobbling up pastures and woodland. Besides they had real estate charts and population graphs which proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a neighborhood as old as ours was due to hit the skids at any moment. Old houses, especially large old houses, especially large old wooden houses, inevitably fall upon evil days and are converted to rooming houses for transients or nursing homes for the aged; laundromats,
delicatessens, beauty parlors and parking lots follow - and the school population drops sharply.
What actually was happening, of course, was that older couples whose one or two children had grown and left home were selling these large old homes to younger couples with three, four or five children. The only difference was quantity, not quality; the newcomers were, if anything, even better educated, more energetic, more interested in their children's education and at least as affluent.
The library mothers began to get the feeling that they were living on borrowed time. The spectre of double sessions loomed ominously and anybody could see that the only remaining space in the building that was readily available was - the library room. After so many years of so much work by so any parents, was it all to go down the drain to pay for official short-sightedness? in time there would be an addition to the school; there would have to be. But until then? Files and books can be boxed and stored but a library is far more than files
and books. What happens to a volunteer library when it loses its momentum, its traditions, its pride, the reading habits of its children and the working habits of its mothers - its entity? And the most ironic thing of all was that the threat of extinction came at a time when, at long last, all the new elementary schools in the county were being built with libraries in them.
There are always some parents who never quite figure out what a library is all about. Dictionaries, sure; maybe encyclopedias; and beyond that, what's the matter with all these fine expensive textbooks we have in the classrooms? So why aren't the teachers earning their salaries asking the kids questions out of these textbooks and why aren't the kids sitting at their desks where they belong writing down the answers? These are often the same parents who see education as a multiple of hours per day spent in the classroom. Perhaps there are not very many of them, but they believe in speaking their minds. Rather than have their children on double sessions they would throw out the library, and they said so loud and clear.
Mrs. Smoot, the principal, was not well for many months before her actual retirement; Mrs. Gray was serving as acting principal; the new principal, whoever he might turn out to be, was an unknown quantity. No wonder the library mothers were worried.
Mrs. Gray remembers the many possible alternatives that were hashed over to relieve overcrowding: use of the gong Hall (boiling in hot weather, freezing in cold); temporary classrooms on the playground (maybe Quonset huts); rented space elsewhere for the kindergarten (perhaps in churches). Any one of these would have been only makeshift and every one would have cost money - money that could be better spent on the new addition the school so desperately needed. But not once, she says, was it officially suggested that the library be abandoned. In the end it was decided simply to face up to double sessions while waiting for the new building.
One of Mr. Powers' first announcements was to the effect that, although the second grades were on double sessions and other grades might have to follow, the library was safe, no matter what.
The new addition to the school finally got under way. The school had been U shaped, the two brick wings connected at the back by the old Long Hall, a ricketty wooden structure not unlike those set up on city sidewalks to keep the wreckers from dropping bricks on the heads of pedestrians. The front lawn ran back into the hollow of this U, and sixth grade graduations and May Day dances used to be held there. Everybody in the area knew exactly where the new building should be tacked onto the old, and said so. Some were strong for replacing the old Long Hall with it and preserving the sweep of the front lawn; others would have put it across the front and torn down the Long Hall and added the inner space to the playground. It was actually built across the front, of course, and the Long Hall was rebuilt to form a hollow square around an inner courtyard.
The new first floor library looked out onto this grassy courtyard. Mrs. McLelland, who succeeded Mrs. Levant, was chairman when, for the second time, books and files were moved to a new location. But this time, nothing else was moved with them.
Everything else was already there: spanking, new tables, shelves, chairs, cabinets. There was no large blank wall space above the new bookcases for the old cut-outs, and in any event they would scarcely have survived another move. What display space exists can be put to better use with children's own posters and the constantly changing library exhibits.
The books were now all county books because they sat on county shelves; no matter that the vast majority of them had been selected, paid for and serviced by the P.T.A. Now that it became a county library some changes had to be made. An annual inventory must be made. No longer could fines be charged for overdue books and the money applied where needed in the library; discarded books no longer were sold for tiny amounts to the children, or even given away to the mothers; these were sent to Rockville along; with the damaged books. The library could not be kept empty one morning a week for repairing books since this was against county policy, so the books to be repaired were sent to Rockville, whence some informants agree, they never, never, returned.
The transition, in other words, was tough. Mrs. Marcia Behr, followed by Mrs.. Ernest Lefever, saw the library through the years until a full time county librarian was assigned to Rosemary.
The librarian's position, to be fair about it, could hardly have been enviable at first; she was a little like a very new in-law in a large, cohesive, well-to-do family which was set in its ways and had got alone; very well before it ever laid eyes on her.
Mrs. Dinwoodey had the vision. Longer and harder than she probably now remembers, she worked to turn it into reality. Other people remember.
The teachers - and the best ones remained in the school a long time - not only used the library but were partners in its making.
The parents were an exceptional group of able and literate individuals. There were few intervals in which at least one professional librarian was not available for long hours of volunteer service in children's work, the only branch of the profession in which it is any part of a librarian's job to help, encourage or teach the customers to read. In an adult library, if the customer isn't a reader already, he isn't in the library.
Among the hundreds of volunteer mothers who staffed the library there were always some who were themselves dyed-in-the-wool readers; they had read widely as children; they read aloud to their own children and encouraged and guided their reading. Such mothers brought to the library an invaluable knowledge of children's books and child readers.
Much of the money which made books possible was raised in ways made possible by books: the Creative Club plays; the book sales and Book Fairs. "Make your book-buying dollar do double duty" was the slogan of the very first P.T.A. book sale for the benefit of the library.
Very little has been set down here about the children, and after all the whole thing was for them. Nobody questions the value to the children of the shelves of fine reference books and the shelves of biography, history, science and art books. Nobody questions the value of learning how to use a library. But even more valuable, perhaps, were the shelves and shelves of books for just reading. Not for looking up facts in or copying down answers out of; not for enriching the curriculum - but just for enriching the child. An almost unlimited opportunity for just reading was, perhaps, the most valuable gift the busy library mothers gave the children of the Rosemary school.
And the library mothers - they themselves reaped unexpected dividends. To some, possibly, it was simply time donated to the insatiable P.T.A., essentially no different than time spent punching cafeteria tickets or making second-graders go up the ladder and down the slide instead of vice versa. But to many of them it was a great deal more than time expended; there was an added dimension.
One of them put it best when she recalled that she was isolated at home with small children in an unfamiliar area when she first volunteered as a library mother. It got her out of the house, perhaps with beds and dishes undone - but after all, for the Q.T.A. It first made her acquainted with the other mothers who later became her best friends because, given the choice, these were the ones who gravitated naturally to the library. Not the supermarket or the beauty parlor, not in scouting or charity drives or even in church work could the literate, college educated mother so surely find the others of her own kind, so quickly make lasting friends. Many library mothers, their children now grown, have gone back to rewarding work as teachers, librarians, lawyers, researchers, writers, architects - but when their children were small, the Rosemary P.T.A. library was one great big book-lined Welcome Wagon.
One last odd thing emerges from the library story. Things were different then, and somehow simpler. Somehow when money was needed for a thing widely agreed on as necessary or desirable, it seems to have occurred to nobody to raise the dues or assess the membership and hire the thing done. Instead, as a, matter of course, plans were immediately made for everybody to get together and do something: a bake sale, a book sale, a rummage sale, a fun fair, a play - clearly the adult time expended on these things, if deducted as an expense at 20 cents an hour, meant they all operated at whopping deficits. It is true that during the war years there was a shortage of everything, including labor, and roller skates had to be inherited and were more to be cherished than your grandmother's Spode. Where and when else would you have found a committee of fathers (lawyers, diplomats, scientists, editors, Army and Navy brass) painting a cafeteria wall or pushing mops across a floor?
But not all of it can be laid to wartime shortages. In sore odd way, and not so long ago, people were closer to pioneer or small-town folkways although none were pioneers and few had lived in small towns. Something in teem was still stubbornly rooted in the strawberry festival on the side lawn of the church where a fine sociability could be combined with the warm glow of virtuous effort. Whatever it was, it generated a strong feeling of community with the school. If it had to be done, they did it.
And so for twenty years hundreds, of parents worked thousands of hours to raise money or thousands of books; and hundreds of mothers worked thousands of hours to staff a library so that thousands of children might read tens of thousands of books. And all this was duly recorded somewhere: budget estimates, treasurers' reports, library staff schedules, library chairmen's reports: books purchased, inventoried, circulated, discarded, mended. It would have been easy to reduce the story to long lists of names and dates and columns of figures. Instead, starting with Mrs. Dinwoodey and Mrs . Branch and Mrs. Palmer, everyone who could now be located was simply asked to remember.
(When dice you work in the library? "Oh, it was so long ago - I haven't the faintest idea." Well, what grade was your child in? "Which child?" Where was the library then? Who was principal than? Who was library chairman? which teachers do you remember? Which other library mothers? What did you do in the library? And above all, what was it like then?)
The bright and brash young men who wrote 1066 and All That finally decided that "history is what you remember" - and threw out all the other dates. If they were right, then this is history. It is what people remember.
1965 - 1967
No longer must we dream - we have now had for two years a full time librarian. Mrs. Ann Jett has made the library a place the children feel they can at any time go to and really and truly use. She has added some very comfortable chairs and something that I think all of the mothers agree belongs there - a nice comfortable rocking chair. This is not all that has been added since Mrs. Jett has been our librarian. Since June, 1965 she has had to find room for 1001 new books on the shelves; this brings our total number of volumes to 9,609.With an attendance of approximately 37,000 children and a circulation of over 50,000 books in the last school year, you can see this has become a very busy place. Our librarian also has something else to find room for and to become familiar with besides our nearly 10,000 volumes, and those are the non book materials such as film strips, records, tapes, etc., which add up to the surprising total of 3,171. It is no wonder that Mrs. Jett has some part-time library aides as well as over twenty volunteer mothers to help her run the library.
Yes, I guess the library has changed from its small beginning almost 30 years ago [1968 written in margin] to a professionally run library now. But I think this proves what a group of dedicated parents knew then, that a library can be one of the greatest assets a school can have, and one of the nicest experiences a child can have; this has now been recognized by the professionals.
Rosemary is now looking forward to our proposed new library with a $l50,000 appropriation, which will be even larger and busier than before.
Another major step in the progress of the library is being taken. In keeping with Montgomery County policy, the library has been gradually expanded to encompass all learning materials as an instructional center or IMC. its present location is inadequate to serve its students and teachers. The Board of Education considered the proposal presented by the Planning Division of the Board for inclusion in its 1967-68 budget. The P.T.A. strongly supported the request. The Board of education granted funds to build a new facility behind the existing school building which will provide for much larger and more Modern quarters. There will be a large main reading room, a conference room, a work room and a storage room. This will centrally house all of the instructional materials and resources for the school. Here they can be used for research, study or recreation and from here they can move quickly to the students, teachers or classroom where they are needed.
It has been a long step from that early P.T.A. sponsored and manned library. The continuing support and participation of the P.T.A. have helped make our progress and the development of a truly instructional materials center possible.