Oft curmudgeonly Mark Twain once wrote, “I like stories well told. That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.” Fortunately for readers, he did indeed scribble his tales, many of which sit upon the shelves of the beloved Lakewood Branch Library, his books nestled somewhere in the neighborhood of John Steinbeck and Edith Wharton. But books aren’t the only sources of stories in the building. The branch’s long history and the many folks who have visited it and worked within its walls throughout the years have tales to tell as well.
Rose-Mary Rumbley, frequent and popular local speaker, remembers the original library location at the corner of La Vista and Abrams. One of only five branches at the time, it opened in 1938 with 3,000 volumes and an ice cream parlor in the back. The elite of East Dallas attended the black-tie grand opening gala the evening before it opened to the public. Rumbley recalls “riding my bicycle to the opening ceremony.” Marion Underwood, known to all as the Mayor of Lakewood, served as the colorful head librarian for 23 years, and she apparently made quite an impression on the young Miss Rumbley. “She was a character … very dramatic. She smoked and drove a wild car, a convertible.”
The library sat across from the country club, evidently a hazardous location. “The Lakewood Country Club came right up to the window,” Rumbley says. On one particularly memorable day, “a golf ball came through the window and hit the librarian on the head.”
Rumbley describes Underwood as “a dear,” but she clearly had her limits. A radio show at the time, “Pop Call,” offered prizes to listeners who could answer on-air questions, and many turned to a certain Ms. Underwood for the answers. Weary of the incessant jangling of the telephone, she began posting the answer on the library door. Rumbley recalls the sign: “Don’t call — come down to the library and get the answer.”
Underwood is long gone, and the branch is now on Worth Street, a move made in 1970. The neighborhood has seen many changes, from the elite to urban decay to the influx of urban pioneers, but the Lakewood branch has been a constant. The Lakewood Library Friends group sees to that. Formed in 1984, it was the city’s first Branch Friends group.
The heart of the Lakewood Branch Library, however, is its people, those helpful and patient folks who answer all manner of queries every day. Christina Worden, current Northeast District Manager and librarian for 26 years, recalls, “One of my very first reference questions when I first started was from a tall and muscular young man who asked me where the books about razor blades as weapons are. This gave me pause, to say the least.”
Navigating the Dewey Decimal System is only one of the many expectations placed upon a librarian’s shoulders. “Being a librarian,” says Worden, “sometimes takes psychic powers.” One day a young patron asked where to find the book “A Man and a Mouse.” Worden correctly guessed that he was referring to Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”
How about your own walking, talking GPS system? Find it at the library — at least some folks think so. “A man wanted me to be his GPS while he was driving through the Metroplex,” Worden says. “He seemed to have no idea of very major highways or landmarks, and he was very impatient. I was terrified that he would have an accident while talking and driving.” When Worden politely and wisely asked the man to pull over, he promptly hung up on her.
The Lakewood Branch Library has been a source for stories, on the page and otherwise, since it served ice cream in the rear room. Customer service representative Vanessa Johnson recalls the time a man walked into the library and earnestly asked her, “Is this where the books are?” The fellow would have likely inspired a comment or two from Mark Twain.
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