Our first family visit to the Miami Public Library (as it was called then) was back in 1958. I was 5 years old, my sister Victoria was 8, and my brother Matthew was 10. We visited a crowded shopping destination, “Little River.”
After going to Woolworth’s, Arno Shoes, Beauty Fair and Larry’s Restaurant, my mother Mildred “Fritzie” Stahl spotted the Little River Library and exclaimed, “I’ve been meaning to get a library card. Let’s go there!” My sister Vickie picked out Lad: A Dog, I got Blueberries for Sal and my father Edmund checked out a large, illustrated Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and read it to us that same night, which my brother especially enjoyed.
Fritzie loved the library so much she quit working at Burdines in 1959 to work at Little River Library full-time. Although her official position was “Clerk Typist I,” with her educational background at American University, and with my father’sbackground as a member of the Art Students League, they embarked on professional endeavors there.
My mother participated in the children’s summer reading club, which my sister and I eagerly joined. Here’s how it worked: during the summer of 1963, a bulletin board was placed at each library branch entrance. For each child, a colorful fishing pole was placed on the board, identifying the reader. Whenever a child finished a book, a fish was added, showing which book the child had “caught” (read).
My sister’s fishing pole was heavily sagging with such “catches,” including Herman Wouk, Ernest Hemingway and Margaret Mitchell. My pole was heavily laden with Beverly Cleary and Mark Twain selections. At the end of the summer, 15 children from the Little River library boarded a Coast Cities Coaches bus downtown to receive a certificate of achievement. A total of 725 children, each of whom had read a minimum of eight books, attended from libraries throughout the county.
My parents also presented many puppet shows at the library. One memorable show was Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. My father designed cloth puppets and painted scenery, and my mother wrote a script based on the book. After the show was over, my mother was delighted because several children asked, “Where can I get a copy of Treasure Island?” A “classic,” which might otherwise be just sitting on the shelf was being noticed!
I remember one librarian who worked with my mother in Little River, Miss Grace Rayfuse. Fritzie knew the library so well she would just look up a book if children asked for one, but Miss Rayfuse suggested, “Always say, ‘let’s look in our card catalogue,’ if it is a child asking for a book.” That became a catch-phrase in the library.
It has now been more than a half-century since our family’s first visit to the Little River library. My brother, mother and father died many years ago. My sister and I still live about three miles away from the library (we are currently zoned to use the North Miami library). We still love books. Our living room resembles a library itself with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled to capacity.
I decided to take a sentimental trip back to the Little River library recently. The exterior looks much the same with its slanted pillars and double-glass doors. Inside, it was much different. Children had replaced pencil and notebook paper with laptop computers. Instead of “[our] card catalogue,” children now expertly skim a computer mouse to search for books.
Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be nearly as many books available as when I visited the library in the 1950s and 1960s. The entire shelf near the checkout desk was gone. In its place was a display of videos, compact discs and DVDs. Everything seems so different. And yet the library director informed me the county still offers the summer reading club. Despite all the new technology, there are still thousands of books available for checkout. I checked and yes, Treasure Island is still available.