In Memoriam: The Pike Library Association
Small town libraries are closing. Even after cutting hours because of lack of funds some still can’t find a way to stay open. A few people complain, but the fact is that so many more people couldn’t care less if one of the pillars of society fails.
But it’s not the fault of the libraries. They aren’t the failures. Society is failing. Demographics are changing and interests are devolving.
Not to get into it too deeply, but if you are aware that your small local library has closed, you’re probably not the problem. The problem is that, seemingly, the majority of the population doesn’t read anymore
My own little, tiny, library in Pike, New Hampshire (a little, tiny town), that I’d been proud to be on the board of for more than twenty years, has just closed its doors. It did get by on the donation the town made to it, and to the three other libraries in Haverhill, NH, but just barely. It kept up-to-date books that its dwindling number of patrons liked to read, it had the best collection of children’s classics in town, and it was friendly. But it was doomed.
One hundred years ago Pike was a bustling, small town. Its whetstone factory was the largest in the world, producing sharpening stones for all sorts of purposes. The sharpening stone that my father, an engraver, used way back when, was probably a Pike sharpening stone.
Newspaper articles from the turn of the (previous) century said that the whetstone company employed over 100 people in downtown Pike, and more outside of town. Another article described Pike as:
“a little village of more than 500 inhabitants. There is a fine department store, whetstone mill, sawmill, box factory, wheelwright and blacksmith shop, grist mill, hotel, livery stable, a good hall and schoolhouse. The village has long distance telephone, telegraph, and six (!!!) mails a day.”
Pike had everything a small town should have, and then, just to put the icing on the cake, it got a library.
Over the years, things happened to this former bustling village. Artificial abrasives were invented which changed the course of the whetstone factory. Less customers meant unemployment for its workers, which led to an exodus of the former employees and their families. Schools closed. The auxilary mills folded or moved away. Obviously there was no need for a livery stable or blacksmith any more, and those workers and their families moved on.
Yesterday, literally, all that was left of the town proper were the library, the post office, and the ruins of the whetstone factory. Today it’s just the post office, the ruins and an empty building.
The Pike library starved to death. Or maybe, like Gregor Samsa in Franz Kafka’s, The Metamorphosis, it died of a broken heart. Take your pick, both are equally miserable endings.
Kafka’s, The Metamorphosis, can be found at most libraries.
(my thanks to Robert Fillion and his publication ‘Early Pike and Whetstone Works,’ 1994, Woodsville, NH, for the excerpts of newspaper articles, circa 1900.)