Fran Olans: Libraries are a pillar of a civilized society - The Buffalo News

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Fran Olans: Libraries are a pillar of a civilized society

I love babies, puppies, kittens, plants, trees and libraries. My sister introduced me to libraries 72 years ago. We entered a huge, red sandstone building and the librarian in the children’s room gave me a card to sign. The pen wasn’t ballpoint or a fountain pen. This pen had a nib or a point that I had to dip into an inkwell. I remember this distinctly because when I returned the pen to the librarian, I smeared ink on her hand. She was gracious about it. The first book I borrowed was on Indians.

Flash forward to Lockwood Memorial Library on the University at Buffalo Main Street Campus. It always reminded me of a temple. I have so many happy memories of studying and socializing there. It was there I met a handsome lieutenant in the Navy. Eventually he sailed away.

As seniors, we were allowed to study in the stacks in little cubicles. My friend Betty and I spent many hours there. (We met when we were 18 and, now in our 80s, we are still friends.) The only problem with studying in the stacks was that I often found books that were more interesting than my assignments.

On to the Grosvenor Reference Library. One entered through a building that once had been a church and then walked down a ramp into a huge round room. (My dad told me it had once been a roller rink.) This library housed the Mercedes of librarians. These people could find anything you wanted. It was in the Grosvenor on a fine spring day that my future husband came home on leave from the Army. I was unprepared for seminar that week.

After I moved from Buffalo, I heard that the Grosvenor was going to be razed. I called my sister-in-law Judy and asked her to have my nephew pick up two bricks from the ruins. He was too embarrassed, so Judy picked them up. I gave one brick to Betty and I wrapped mine in aluminum foil. One of my heirs will find it.

When the new downtown library opened, I went to the reference department. There on the wall was the Grosvenor’s old bronze plaque. Sitting at a desk near the plaque was one of the Grosvenor’s librarians. I said, “I imagine you miss the old library.” She teared up, and I felt the same way. Part of my youth was gone forever.

In Lancaster, I loved the old library. After the new library was open for a few years, I found that it was to be closed. Another lover of libraries, UB professor Olive Lester, started a letter campaign to keep it open. I willingly wrote a letter in support. What I wanted to write was, “How stupid can you be to invest thousands of taxpayer money to build a beautiful library and then close it?” Instead, I wrote a polite letter expressing the same sentiments. Lester sent it to The News. I was published! After that, the librarians all but genuflected when I checked out my books.

I’m not alone in my love for libraries. The people in West Falls are keeping their library open by staffing it themselves. And the people in Blasdell have started their own lending library. I am fortunate today because I have two libraries in a relatively short distance from my home.

Not everyone loved libraries. Julius Caesar burned the library in Alexandria and Adolf Hitler also burned books. Books and libraries are a threat to despots.

To me there are four pillars of a civilized society – families, churches, schools and libraries.

Fran Olans, of East Aurora, taught for one year at Nardin Academy and for more than 25 years in the Maryvale School District.

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