When we arrived in Vermont in 1993, and got ourselves moved into the lovely manse (a story in itself), we learned of a perk available to the Presbyterian pastor. I would be receiving a key to the village library. Each pastor who served the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church was given a key so that we could, 24/7, have access to the library’s resources. Presumably, this was to help us in sermon preparation and the other studies that enabled us to lead various educational programs and discussions.

There was a shelf or two of books on theological issues and Biblical studies of particular value to the local preacher. Now and then, I’d recommend a book for purchase in order to keep that shelf up-to-date. When the Barclay Layman’s Bible Commentary series was revised, a copy of each volume found its way to the Simpson shelves, something I thought helpful for lay teachers in our church. By the way, not only did each succeeding pastor of the church get a key, we also got a seat on the library Board.

Plus, we could go to the library any time we wanted and play ping pong.

The John W. Simpson Memorial Library was as close as East Craftsbury, VT came to a community center. Other than the church, that is. The library was the place where people caught up with one another (we’ll not use the word gossip here), no matter the season. In the winter’s extreme northern Vermont climate, folks could avoid cabin fever by meeting a neighbor, or maybe feed the fever by taking home a stack of books to read by the stove. In the summertime, the population of the surrounding area grew, with summer residents and vacationers stopping into the library to reconnect with long lost friends, borrow books, or, during our years there, check to see if the Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court was browsing the stacks. Justice William Rehnquist had a home “up on the hill” and used the Simpson Library’s collection as a respite from his law books. I once asked the only paid employee of the library, Sherry Urie, what kind of books he was likely to read, and she replied that that was between him and his librarian.

And, yes, there was that ping pong table. In all modesty, I must record here that Joan and I had won the doubles division ping pong tournament championship at a Poconos resort on our honeymoon, so we were quite interested in that table. I’m sure that in a simpler time, before satellite TV and computer games reached Vermont, the ping pong table was kept busy. We rarely saw anyone playing when we stopped by during the place’s open hours, but we did use the pastor’s key to go in after hours a few times. I mean…a perk is a perk, right?

Under that table were cardboard boxes of long play records of almost every genre. I enjoyed looking through the jazz collections, but I don’t recall borrowing any albums. Sherry’s limited budget didn’t keep her from acquiring the latest best-selling books, and there were waiting lists for the most popular titles. In addition, the library had some exhibits of historical Craftsbury artifacts. The building itself is a bit of an artifact, having served as Simpson’s Store for previous generations.

If memory serves, I think there was a collection of “costumes” too, perhaps for school plays or local dramatic offerings, such as the annual summer “Get Thee to a Funnery” week-long Shakespeare camp for children held “up on the common.”

The Library traditionally had very limited hours each week. It was open Wednesdays and Saturdays morning, afternoon, and evening, but with hour-long breaks between the day parts, so the librarian and her small cadre of volunteers could go home for meals. And, curiously, the library was also open on Sundays after church for a couple of hours. I guess that was so that church members could make one trip into the village to do church and borrow/return books, thus saving time and fuel especially on Sundays when a foot of snow had fallen on top of the previous three.

The Simpson Library (with its nearly 20,000 volumes) wasn’t the only library in town. A larger library, with presumably a larger collection and with far more “programs,” operates in Craftsbury Common. And a few miles in the other direction, the Greensboro Public Library served its lakeside community. Of the three, the East Craftsbury library wasn’t, isn’t, and may never be “computerized.” You want to borrow a book? Simpson Library has lots. And you’ll find them in the old card catalog.

Whatever one thinks of those small, very rural, Vermont villages, their people were well read, well informed, and well educated, thanks in large part to the presence of a local library.

My next post: The Longest Forty Days of My Ministry

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