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The Library: “A Vessel of our Shared Culture..a Meetingplace…a Refuge”

Willett Free Library
Once a week in winter, there’s a fire in the fireplace at Willett Free Library!

We have a little treasure in our neighborhood, sitting atop the hill. It’s the smallest library in the smallest state, Willett Free Library.

I so enjoyed our librarian Kathy Fitzgerald’s letter that I’m sharing it here with Kathy’s permission. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me!

From Willett’s “Ferry Whistle” :

Autumn is our unacknowledged season of preparation. Thoreau conveys the spirit when he writes about his time at Walden Pond, “In October . . . I collected a small store of wild apples for coddling . . . When chestnuts were ripe I laid up half a bushel for winter.”

‘In the fall of the year, we find it natural to prepare for the rugged season to come. On quiet fall days, the world around us feels as though it were in suspension, but even then small changes are apparent. Tiny clusters of leaves turn red, a storm comes up unexpectedly, the winds change and the Bay suddenly becomes a deep pewter color. Many of us share Thoreau’s experience of red squirrels waking us at dawn, “coursing over the roof, and up and down the sides of the house,” as they too prepare for the cold days ahead.

‘Fall preparations are tinged with melancholy because they remind us of the changes to come. Change is a challenge. And fall in New England, stunning symphony of natural forces though it is, calls our attention to the changes that are the fabric of our lives as well as the foundation of our natural world. Can we welcome the changes in ourselves in the same way we celebrate the change that is autumn? Thoreau embraces Nature’s transmutations, reveling in “the indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature.” His sympathy with the natural world leads him to ask, “Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?”

‘The loveliness of a New England autumn, an annual masterpiece created from change and dedicated to change, if grasped in Thoreauvian wholeheartedness, can afford us plenty of cheer. But fall also brings winds and rain, chilly weather and darkness arriving earlier each day. As the season changes, we might ask with Thoreau, “What is the pill which will keep us well, serene, contented?” For him, the undiluted morning air is the answer. For us, the air of our magnificent coast and countryside, as we step out into it at any time of day, will certainly do.

Halloween at Willett is a spooky time!

“Books like Walden form our national culture, a landscape of thought as fundamental to our happiness as are our natural surroundings. Such books are signposts to guide our way. And that’s where our library comes in. It is a vessel of our shared culture, a meetingplace for thoughtful interaction and a refuge for silent thinking. It’s a place for good laughing as well as deep reflection, for all that excellent books and movies and sincere conversation can bring to our lives. Winter approaches. But we are prepared, because our library, a place for all seasons, is here.”

– Kathy Fitzgerald

When I think of my library…

Willett Free Library truly was a refuge for me when I first moved to Saunderstown as a new mother. I worked my way through Harry Potter while nursing in the middle of my sleep-deprived nights. I chatted with then-librarian Peg Squibb. And, over time, I met good friends, neighbors, my friend Diana, whose son  became best friends with my oldest son when they were two.

I’ve taken poetry classes, watched movies, introduced authors to speak, read to young children, made crafts with them, eaten old fashioned recipes from the first American cookbook right out of Kathy’s book (with her husband, Keith Stavely), United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook, viewed slides of my neighbor Whit’s adventure in Tibet, enjoyed homemade baked goods at our monthly Kaffee Klatsch and caught up on the lives of my wonderful neighbors, many of whom happen to be amazing bakers (I’m thinking of you, Barbara, master of scone baking!).

I’ve lounged in the overstuffed chairs, writing with my friend Tracy, in front of a warm fire and drinking peppermint tea. And toasted marshmallows in the fireplace when my kids were small.

And I’ve discovered new worlds in so many books, and sparked a love of reading in my children that we are both grateful for.

All in this special community. I can’t imagine our neighborhood without this beautiful, warm library that brings us together. Where the librarians know my children’s tastes in books and offer suggestions.

Do you have any special memories of your favorite libraries?

What role do libraries play in your modern life? What do they mean to you? Share your thoughts as a comment below–thanks!

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Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. Jill Sylvester says

    Love our local library. The treasure of our town.
    The pleasure I receive going and checking out books every few weeks or so brings me the same pleasure as when my mom, brother and I stepped off the bus in West Roxbury in front of the library, in anticipation of the many books I would check out as a child, reading my primary form of escape.
    Love this post- particularly the picture of the fireplace blazing among the books- pulls me toward the cozy comforts of being curled up with a good book in the Fall.

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