Places to Read in Massachusetts

November 5, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Most of my vacation last month was spent in on the side of Mount Monadnock, but I spent the a few days in Massachusetts. As the weekend went on an organizing theme unfolded.

After a delicious local food called “Fish and Chips” with “Chowder” my host and I walked to downtown North Hampton and then to Smith College. We naturally gravitated to the library after our walk through picture-perfect forests of gold and red. Smith’s Library, offers students a “Learning Commons” which are a relatively recent innovation: libraries provide scholars what’s needed to collaborate around digital information: large monitors, data projectors, movable furniture, white boards. I dropped into Smith’s by accident, but then I realized that I wanted to see as many of these places as I could.

So my hosts offered to take me on a tour the next day. But later that night, we stopped in at The Raven, where I bought the collection of Emily Dickinson I posted about earlier.

The next day, we visited Mt Holyoak, and the Reading Room at the Williston Memorial Library, where we find this poem.

Williston Memorial Library

The chapter ends. And when I look up
from a sunken pose in an easy chair
(half, or more than half asleep?)
the height and the heft of the room come back;
darkly, the pitched ceiling falls
forward like a book.
Even those mock Tudor stripes
have come to seen like unread lines.
Oh, what I haven’t read!

— and how the room, importunate
as a church, leans as if reading me:
the three high windows in the shape
of a bishop’s cap, and twenty girls
jutting from the walls like gargoyles
or (more kindly) guardian angels
that peer over the shoulder, straight
into the heart. Wooden girls who exist
only above the waist–

whose wings fuse thickly into poles
behind them — they hold against their breasts,
alternately, books or scrolls
turned outward, as if they mean to ask:
Have you done your Rhetoric today?
Your passage of Scripture? Your Natural
In their arch, archaic
silence, one can’t help but hear a
mandate from another era

and all too easy to discount
for sounding quaint. Poor
Emily Dickenson, when she was here,
had to report on the progress of
her soul toward Christ. (She said: No hope.)
Just as well no one demands
to know that any more … Yet
one attends, as to a lecture
to this stern-faced architecture —

Duty is Truth, Truth Duty — as one
doesn’t to the whitewashed, low
ceilings of our own. Despite
the air these angels have of being
knowing (which mainly comes by virtue
of their being less to know back then),
there’s modesty in how they flank
the room like twenty figureheads:
they won’t, or can’t reveal who leads

the ship you need to board. Beneath
lamps dangled from angel’s hands–
stars to steer us who knows where–
thousands of periodicals
unfurled their thin, long-winded sails;
back there, in the unlovely stacks,
the books sleep cramped as sailors.
So little time to learn what’s worth
our time! No one to climb that stair

and stop there, on the balcony
walled like a pulpit or a king’s
outlook in a fairy take,
to set three tasks, to pledge rewards.
Even the angels, after all
whose burning lamps invoke a quest
further into the future, drive
us back to assimilate the past
before we lose the words.

No, nobody in the pulpit
but for the built-in, oaken face
of a timepiece that –I check my watch —
still works. As roundly useful as
the four-armed ceiling fans that keep
even the air in circulation,
it plays by turns with hope and doubt:
hard not to read here, in the clock’s
crossed hands, the paradox

of Time that is forever running out.

Mary Jo Salter


Around the corner from the Reading Room is Mt. Holyoke’s Learning Commons. As I walked in, I realized I had read a paper about this one. This is one of the best in the country.

I interviewed the consultant, and asked her questions that you can’t get from papers, like “How many consultants do you work with? How many supervisors do you have? How are you trained? What do you do when you are helping someone in-person? What do students need help with the most? How do you and your co-workers collaborate? Who do you escalate to when you don’t know the answer?

Things I liked about this facility: the beautiful octagonal reading room, art on the walls, the group study rooms.

I also learned that people like to read near windows.

Here’s a window seat at Mt. Holyoke and a similar group study area at a popular bookstore, The Bookmill, in Montegue, about 20 minutes from Northampton.


The Bookmill offers this message to departing customers:


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