Farewell, Tesson Ferry Branch


The St. Louis County Library announced the pending closure of the Tesson Ferry Branch today. The building is old and in need of too much repair, and the property is too small to build another library in its place. The Library has instead constructed a gorgeous new building near Grant’s Farm to take the Tesson Ferry Branch’s place. It will be called, appropriately, Grant’s View Branch. The new library, according to the renderings and the construction photos posted on SLCL’s Flickr page, is a pantheon to books. Huge, two-story windows let in tons of natural light, perfect for reading. There are designated resource centers and meeting rooms, and the building, as one would expect in 2015, is all wired up for technology. It is truly lovely.

And yet, I am so saddened about the Tesson Ferry Branch’s demise. This branch was my branch when I was a child. It was my library. This branch sent out the bookmobile that came to the elementary school that was a 10-minute bike ride from my house.

Here’s an excerpt from a January 10, 2007 blog post that explains just how much the bookmobile means to me:

Every once in awhile, when I’m out driving here or there, I see a St. Louis County Public Library Bookmobile, and I smile.

The summer before 7th grade, my folks moved from Jefferson County to South County. Not too far, but to a 7th grader, well, they may as well have taken me to Guam. All I knew was that I no longer knew where I lived, and I had no friends. That summer I spent a lot of time on my bike, exploring the subdivisions around my new home and generally trying to get my bearings. Finding another kid my age would have been a perk, too. Eventually, I found my way through the subdivision behind us and discovered a path that led directly to my new middle school and my sister’s new grade school.

Then, one day, while riding up there and circling around as I usually did out of sheer boredom, I saw something in the grade school parking lot I had never seen before. There was a big truck that had pulled a large trailer onto the lot. The markings on it said, “St. Louis County Public Library Bookmobile.” Huh? Now, I was an avid reader even at that age (always have been, actually: my former elementary school librarian had made special rules for me in second grade because I had read almost all the second grade books in the library, and when no one was looking she let me skirt the ropes blocking us from the third grade section), but I had never seen a bookmobile before. Hell, I didn’t even know bookmobiles existed.

After sitting there on my bike, scrutinizing the outside of the trailer for a long time, watching people go in with books and come out with different books, I finally steeled up my nerve. It looked like they let anyone go in, after all. I parked the bike and gingerly climbed the metal grate steps, pulling cautiously on the rectangular latch of the door. I peeked inside, and it was like nirvana.

Books! Shelves and shelves, rows and rows of books! In a trailer, for Pete’s sake! I think my eyes must have been the size of saucers, because finally the bookmobile librarian explained to me exactly what a bookmobile was, and how I could use it, for free.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Once a week, I could ride my bike up to the grade school and visit the bookmobile. I could check out seven books at a time, for free, just like at the big library, and return them up to two weeks later. I got my very first library card that day, on the spot. It was laminated and it had my name on it and everything. I think that library card became one of my most cherished possessions, alongside the bike.

I have no idea how many books I checked out and read that summer. I can say that I took advantage of the seven book maximum and stuffed my backpack full every week, racing home to start on my newfound treasures.

What had started out to be the worst summer of my short life (my parents had moved me to Guam after all) ended up being probably one of the best, thanks to the Bookmobile.

So, whenever I see a St. Louis County Public Library Bookmobile, I smile. And remember.

My mother took us to the library every once in awhile, to the Tesson Ferry Branch. Home of my beloved bookmobile. I wanted to stay there for hours. I thought that librarians had the best job in the whole world. (In fact, I still do.) The Tesson Ferry branch smelled like the bookmobile, which is to say old and bookish, and offered thousands of titles rather than hundreds. It was the first library in the St. Louis County Library system, built in 1958. This one building was probably the genesis of my love of mid-century modern architecture and design. My fondness for the treasures within transferred easily to the container itself. The Tesson Ferry Branch and its bookmobile were my first real loves.

I am heartbroken that the Tesson Ferry Branch will be demolished soon. I understand the rationale, and am thrilled that the SLCL system will have a sparkling new facility, a beautiful gem to add to its lustrous crown. Who can ever be upset about the building of a new library? Libraries are good, and if this new facility welcomes readers and makes it easier for more people to discover the incredible gift of books then it’s all worth it. I am just sad to say goodbye to an old friend who kindled a life-long love of reading and nurtured the drifting soul of a 13-year-old girl who felt like she had briefly lost her place in the world.

#childhood#library#memory#personal essay#writing

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