My sister Barbara and I are book huntresses. We scout for vintage, forgotten, well-lived books that are in need of a new home, new life, new purpose.
One day when returning from a meeting, I decided to drive home on Route 20. This route took me through Western New York’s concord grape belt. While passing through Ripley, New York, a small town with a population of approximately 2,321, I noticed a street sign that read “Book Sale Today” in front of a church. The book huntress in me quickly started giving orders, “Stop! Slow Down! Turn Around!” The book huntress in me wanted to check it out.
The mystery of a book sale in a church seemed unique while I wondered what kind of books a church would sell. Would there be old books, bibles, hymns books? When I entered, I saw several long tables filled with books. I explored the next room, which revealed an even larger room filled with rows of bookshelves packed with books and more long tables with an abundance of books. To me this was book heaven! I took noticed of several long arched windows with biblical designs made of stained glass and a large wooden double door, which was the main entrance in the past.
Near the double door there was a cubicle with two desks stacked with papers, files, books, and pens. A woman appeared deeply engaged with paper work. “Umm excuse me – are these books for sale?” Turning my head to indicate the books on the shelves and tables. “No, just the ones on the tables.”
Two hours later and several filled totes, I was ready to check out. But, I couldn’t leave without some idea why the Ripley Library was in a church. The librarian excitingly gave me a brief history. For decades, the library had been relocating from place to place. In a home, a mansion, and even a vacant dress shop. They always paid rent. Packing, unpacking, packing books was getting tiring for the Ripley Library members. However, the Ripley community love their library. To them, their library allows them to stay in touch with the world of information and provides a place to learn and bond.
In 1982 the Ripley Baptist Church (built 1937) was vacant and for sale. The library purchased it for $500.00. After the purchase, inside the high ceiling was blocked with a lower partitioned ceiling, book shelves were added, boxes of books were unpacked, and the library was now permanently home. Well, not quite. The books are being packed again. This year the library is getting a significant improvement: Funds have been secured for a renovation. The renovation will entail removing the lowered ceilings to expose the original cathedral ceiling, adding a large loft, building new bookshelves and a new counter for the librarians, updating their IT system, while keeping the grand wooden double doors, original stained glass, and all the woodwork that are still attached to the walls. This concept reminds me of the television series This Old House, except this project is This Old Church. I admire the Ripley Library members’ desire to preserve the old and rejoice the new.
I invite you to visit their website and visit libraries near you!
Recommended reading – The Library Book by Susan Orlean.
Warmly, Grace M. Sam