Ginger Rutland: For children, a library is a gift that keeps on giving

12/23/2012 12:00 AM

02/26/2013 8:17 PM

The Ella K. McClatchy branch is like no other in the Sacramento Public Library system. It is a house, a mansion really, donated to the city in 1940 by sisters Eleanor McClatchy and Charlotte McClatchy Maloney in memory of their mother, Ella. She was the wife of Charles Kenny McClatchy, the second publisher of The Bee.

Built in the early 1900s, the handsome beaux-arts house sits on 22nd Street between U and T streets in Sacramento's historic Poverty Ridge neighborhood. It was a family home before it became a library and it retains its comfortable family warmth and elegance.

Originally conceived as a children's library, it has been a quiet refuge for generations of Sacramento book lovers of all ages for decades.

The depth of fondness people feel for the library has been captured in "Memories of McClatchy Library," a collection of stories and reminiscences about the library published this year by Friends of McClatchy Library.

The slim volume includes dozens of remembrances from patrons, former staffers and volunteers. There's a piece from Molly Maloney Evangelisti, the donors' granddaughter, entitled "My Great-Grandmother's House." There's an account of how, in 1995, a determined group of citizens persuaded the City Council to make major repairs to the library instead of shuttering it.

There's a snippet of a Bee interview with writer Joan Didion, who lived near the library and described visiting it as a very young child.

"Mother would leave me there upstairs," Didion told The Bee. "I loved that house. It had very highly polished floors and Oriental rugs. It was very sunny."

There's a story about Sherlock, the much-loved cat who lived across the street and greeted library patrons for years, and a story about the beautiful pen-and-ink sketch of the library – who drew it and how the library came to acquire it.

There's a story from Aine Steiner, a remarkable young woman who resolved last January to read every Pulitzer Prize-winner for fiction since the prize was first awarded in 1918 and to read them in order. Procuring the books turned out to be no easy task, until Steiner went to McClatchy and learned how to access the Public Library's Link+, which allowed her to borrow books from public libraries across the state, even university libraries.

There's a piece from a teacher at the former Fremont Adult School who brought her English Learners class to the library. So many of her students were surprised to learn that the library card was free and that they could bring their children.

And there are several "McClatchy Moments" in the book, such as this one:

"Overheard from a mother to her preschooler as they left the library. 'Please do not read your book as you're going down the stairs.' "

And this one from a young boy to his grandmother overheard as they entered the kids' section: "Now this is my favorite shelf," he said, referring to books about knights and castles.

My neighbor Nancy Anton, a regular McClatchy branch patron and a contributor to "Memories," wrote what turned out to be my favorite piece from the collection, "That Ratty Blue Tutu." It's a story about her then 3–year-old daughter Adrienne, who was attached to, well, a ratty blue tutu, a "hand-me-down she adored" and "begged to wear nearly every day."

On a "bone-chillingly cold" February day at preschool story hour, Nancy recalled, the librarian was to read "Angelina the Ballerina," the children's classic about a dancing mouse. She "had encouraged the children to come dressed in costume; finally, my daughter had a bona fide opportunity to wear that darn tutu!"

The picture of a radiantly happy Adrienne posing in her "ratty blue tutu" was taken in the alcove of the McClatchy Library right next to the entryway.

Of course, the McClatchy sisters were not alone. There is a long history of civic-minded philanthropists creating libraries nationwide. The 19th-century industrialist Andrew Carnegie established 2,500 libraries around the world, including the "colored branch" on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, where my late mother whiled away countless hours as a child.

It was there that she read "Five Little Peppers" and "A Girl of the Limberlost" – children's classics of the last century. It was there she indulged her love of reading and honed her craft as a writer, a love and a craft she passed on to me and I passed on to my own daughter.

Libraries are remarkable places where anyone can go free of charge to read, to learn, to discover. I wonder if Eleanor McClatchy and Charlotte Maloney McClatchy knew how their gift would bring so much happiness to so many for so long.


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