By Claudine Perrault, Estes Valley Library Director & Village Librarian

As a young child, I was given a World Book encyclopedia set. Pre-Internet, those gold-printed volumes were a true gift for the bookish, and one which I explored often. Curious about Valentine’s Day, one afternoon I pulled the slender “V” volume off the bookshelf. Below the holiday article, I noticed the next heading, “Valentine’s Day Massacre.” Massacre? Below it the words, “See: Chicago.” What did this have to do with love? Confused, I resolved to learn more.

On our next family trip to the local library, I, accompanied by my father, approached the reference desk. “What can you tell me about Valentine’s Day Massacre?” I inquired. Pop’s jaw dropped, his face communicating astonishment and perhaps a little embarrassment by his 9-year old’s grim question. 

The librarian patiently observed as my from-the-old-country father leaned over. How had I learned about this, and why (on God’s green earth) did I want to know more? 

“In the World Book, Pop, right after Valentine’s Day,” I replied, with the airs of a sincere, if pretentious, child researcher. He paused, still uncertain. The librarian smiled. Then with a deep breath, he took my hand and said, “Yes, tell us more about the, uh…er… the Valentine’s Day Massacre, please.”

Following the reference librarian, we entered the adult stacks. Finally, the amorous mystery would be revealed! She pulled several ordinary-looking books off the shelf and handed them to me. Alas, no brokenhearted romance here. The Valentine’s Day Massacre was a mob hit in the 1920s.

Bored, I flipped through a few pages, then handed them back with thanks. Pop visibly sighed with relief. Curiosity satisfied, off I went to make book selections more aligned with my interests. 

Important things happened in this moment: 

I learned that libraries are the place where no matter how peculiar the question (or young the patron), I would be factually answered. 

My father learned that my inquisitiveness could be met in the safety of the public library by dispassionate librarians. He soon dropped me off to go in on my own.

The glue of our father-daughter relationship became books and the conversations around them. He began recommending titles. Interested in overwrought romance? Try Bulfinch’s Mythology. Mysteries capturing my attention? Let’s give Agatha Christie a go. 

Here’s what did NOT happen: I didn’t grow up to become a mobster, or for that matter, a dizzy romantic. I am, however, still very curious.  

Public libraries provide this curiosity-satisfying service for all ages and interests. As a government service, it is not the library’s job to tell anyone what they can and cannot read. Here your questions are answered using multiple sources, and you decide what is right for you and your family.

Occasionally what is supportive for you may be contrary to your neighbor’s values. Please know that we are listening to you, as well as to your neighbor. You do not always want the same thing. So if your perspective is not reflected in the collection, we add material with that view, while retaining the others to which you may not agree. Libraries have something to support everyone.

The forgotten role of public libraries is similar to the World Book encyclopedia: each holds space for all ideas to rest on the shelf at the same time. 

We invite you to come in, poke around, and choose your favorites to share and discuss with those around you. Just like Pop and me.