Shared what Pequot Library has to offer

To the Editor:

As current Children’s Librarian of Pequot Library for the past eight years, I must respond to recent public comments — some from a former employee who left a decade ago. The library referenced is not the Pequot of today. Our patron base has broadened; our collections and programs reach far. The precious pearl of a private oyster? No. Partnering is imperative to our mission and necessary for survival.

Lots of opinions have been thrown around, but let me tell you a story — a story of passion, the passion of the Pequot community working together to make things happen. And it springs from the gift of a great lady.

Her name was Virginia Marquand, orphaned at 8 and adopted by her uncle. Legend has it that while abroad and in the middle of the night, following the death of her only child, Virginia was awakened with a vision. She would return to Connecticut and use her inheritance to establish a library. The townspeople wondered why Mrs. Marquand Monroe was building a stone barn behind her stately home.

In 1894, the library was opened in the custodial care of the Pequot Library Association (comprised of those giving even small donations, over which a governing board would preside). Then Virginia removed her home, providing the extensive grounds we use today. Programs drawing huge crowds, like the dog sled demonstration has furthered Virginia’s desire that the library’s resources be “free as air to all.”

Pequot was then endowed with purchasing power to assemble an astoundingly important collection of Americana — from Columbus’s letter upon his return to the first Bible in a Native American language — much of which was “prohibited from being sold.” This is a collection of which we can all be proud.

Today, Pequot is about the passion of those who encounter it — children who walk Belle (world’s only circulating bunny) and learn about kindness; patrons (many elderly who come here because it’s easy to navigate, parking- wise, and given the attentiveness of staff); countless volunteers orchestrating book sales and art shows; the savvy vision of our new director; and board members with other things they could be doing after work.

The staff is not well-paid. We don’t benefit from working for the town. We’re here because we’ve fallen in love with the library’s history, with treasure, with mission, with patrons, with architecture, with the collective sense of making this thing work — Virginia’s thing.

There’s a perception that we’re just for Southport, but exhibits such as the Gone with the Wind manuscript garnered international acclaim and recently Robert Frost’s cards drew New York Times attention, bringing many into town. Thanks to a media effort and director who deserves a chance to shine, patrons all over are starting to know what’s available at Pequot.

Yes, Pequot Library’s quartered in a charming, prosperous village, but we are far from elitist. Examples? We co-present the Free Young Persons’ Concerts. What’s the only thing you need to bring? A child. Not a Pequot library card nor proof of Southport residency. You need to bring a child.

We’ve reached out to the high schools, inviting students to meet the likes of authors Isabel Allende and Joyce Carol Oates. We’ve facilitated a “Books for Teachers” voucher program for Bridgeport and New Haven educators so they can stock their classrooms. I could cite lots more.

Many events embody a spirit of “community.” The Caroling Party ushers in a season. The book sales represent 300 people’s efforts. The Easter Egg Roll follows White House tradition. The Potluck Supper Camp-out is a hoot, often a family’s first camping experience. And Virginia would be pleased to know that a spectacular visiting wolf had respectfully educated children of our town about wildlife conservation on her front lawn. These events are a magic which connects us — the stuff of childhood memories.

It takes mint juleps on the great lawn to raise money, like other not-for-profits. But we are not an “exclusive” club. The town gets much for its contribution — a lending library with accessible parking on the west side, an institution bringing literature, art, music, science, the humanities. We still have computers that malfunction.

People get upset, thinking we’re fully town-funded. Yet we stretch to provide weekend hours. A bit-old- fashioned; and therein lies the charm.

Last Friday, I led a science program for 25 kids. The task? To build a working roller coaster. We discussed force, motion and the scientific method of test and redesign. Each child, with foam piping and a couple of marbles, some Kleenex-box tunnels and toilet-paper-roll hills came up with unimaginably smashing ideas.

Later, a little boy named Max asked with earnestness, appreciation and hope in his eyes, “Miss Susan, do we really get to keep the marbles?” Yes, darling, you do. And so does the whole community — all of Fairfield, all of the county, all of the planet. There are beautiful and precious marbles for everyone. And don’t forget, there is educational value as well as fun.

Recently, a mother wrote that her daughter knew an answer on the CMTs — how mirrors in a periscope face. She knew she had gotten it right because she made one out of a milk carton at Pequot Library.

I ask you to help us share what is unique. We are not superfluous, but an irreplaceable gift which needs its plant food. Here for 124 years, but in the spring of what Pequot can be. Is it time to impose winter? Pequot’s history — the gift of a great, philanthropic lady who shared her marbles. It’s as simple as that.

Each year, we celebrate her birthday and retell the Virginia story. We all need to be grateful and see ourselves as the stewards of this amazing building and its rare collections. I ask you to ensure our future for years to come. On behalf of Max, who matters.

Susan Ei                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Children’s Librarian                                                                                                                                                                                                  Pequot Library

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