FIRST PERSON

The Squirrel’s Nest

I swore off books until I found this nook

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After unpacking 38 boxes of books when I moved to Oakmont in 1992, I was appalled by my conspicuous consumption and resolved to never purchase another book again! Instead, I decided to borrow books from my new local library, one of the first built by Andrew Carnegie in 1901.

I bolstered my resolve with reminders of how extraordinary Oakmont’s library is, visibly and otherwise. Not only is it an architectural gem, seamlessly expanded in 2005, its staff is the friendliest, most competent I’ve encountered over my many decades of library love. Plus, it’s located a mere few blocks away.

For almost 20 years, all went well with my decision to cease purchasing books. In truth, I felt almost smug about my success.

Then, during December 2011, an event occurred which tarnished my sterling, non-purchasing track record. On a gala evening with celebration in the air, the Squirrel’s Nest opened in a cozy corner on the lower level of the Oakmont Library. The Nest is home to 5,000 to 6,000 used books, almost all in pristine condition, some seemingly brand new.

Its name came via a contest among fifth graders. The contest winner, Grace Ison, looking pretty in a pink party dress, was beaming as she cut the ribbon draped across the Squirrel’s Nest’s entryway during the grand opening.

Local library lovers were thrilled by the winning name, evoking as it does the iconic squirrels scampering up and down and around Oakmont’s plentiful oak trees, while “nest” conjures up a carefully constructed, cozy dwelling space — which it is, thanks mainly to staffer Dixie Anderson.

A former psychiatric social worker (“That experience comes in handy here — on some days,” she chuckles), Dixie’s been visibly loving her job for 18 years now. For many of those years, she collected and organized used books for twice-yearly weekend sales. Then, after the ’05 expansion, she noticed that a sizable room was just sitting there, filled with used books for the next sale.

A dream began to incubate: Why not have those books for sale all year long in an actual used-book store on the premises?

And so a few years ago, Dixie approached the board of trustees with her idea and immediately won its enthusiastic support. Soon the storage space was cleared, shelves mounted, art hung and a pair of inviting green velvet chairs installed on either side of a table holding K-cups of coffee, tea and hot chocolate for sale. The naming contest was won and — voila — the Squirrel’s Nest opened its door!

On a recent Friday, the day Dixie devotes to shelving new contributions, creating seasonal displays (during Oscar time, for example, books relating to movies were showcased) and displaying outstanding volumes, she paused to chat about the Nest and its popularity.

“I just love it,” she declared, smiling. “… Not only does it raise money for the library ($11,000 in 2013), our patrons get to recycle their books and our shoppers get incredible bargains. It’s become a gathering place as well,” she adds, nodding towards a trio of women chatting in a corner.

Because I find the Nest’s bargain prices irresistible (hardbacks, $2; paper, $1), I’ve tweaked my ’92 no-book-buying “contract” into one which permits me to purchase used books only. Occasionally, I buy bestselling or classic paperbacks and often find volumes so new they become gifts.

For a friend who loves Sedona, Ariz., I pounced upon a coffee-table book of breathtaking photos. For my book-loving pastor, a Civil War buff, I’ve found a gem or two. For my grandson, a passionate baseball aficionado, I picked up a heavy tome, featuring photos of and commentary on every Major League Baseball stadium across the nation!

In a discouraging era marked by serial book store closings, a time when countless folks prefer to hold little screens in lieu of books, the Squirrel’s Nest is a welcome reminder that safe havens still exist for books and those who love them.

One final note: Despite the Nest’s success, the Oakmont Library continues to sponsor weekend sales — $5 for a bag full of books — twice-yearly to make space for the steady inflow of used-book contributions. The next one happens next weekend, April 26 and 27.

Eileen Colianni is a library-lover living in Oakmont (eileencolianni@gmail.com).


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