NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER
Bijou Miller remembers coming to the Smith Memorial Library when she was in elementary school and reading all the Agatha Christie books.
“I get excited because I think reading is so important. I feel like sometimes in this digital world, people are just on their phones. And you can read on your phones, but … I love the tactile; I love the smell of books,” Miller said. “I’m a book smeller.”
Miller is now the president of the Friends of the Library, and helps plan the annual Library Day. Today, Aug. 5, is the Smith’s 90th birthday, and though Library Day will look different than previous years due to COVID-19 regulations, Miller and Library Director Scott Ekstrom are excited to celebrate in a safe, Chautauqua fashion.
“Like any party,” Ekstrom said, “anything you do, whether it’s kazoos or cake — that’s just the gimmick, the occasion. The real attraction is each other, just to chat and be together.”
This year will feature a large, blown-up crossword puzzle on the front porch of the library, so Chautauquans can stop by and discuss answers throughout the day. A word search will also be featured so children can participate.
“We hope there will be spirited debate about crossword puzzle answers,” Ekstrom said.
People can talk to the Friends of the Library about their work and make a donation, and those who donate will be offered a free book of their choice. The library is also giving out “My Favorite Book” stickers people can write on.
“The Children’s School and Boys’ and Girls’ Club both love those stickers. They get upset if they don’t get enough, which I think is really cute,” Miller said.
Library Day, however, will not have any shared food and drinks, such as pastries and coffee, as it did in years past. It also won’t have the annual Kazoo Chorale.
“We are not doing kazoos because the feeling was that there might not be a mutual level of comfort for that,” Ekstrom said. “I mean, the mechanics of kazoos involves spit, so we thought, ‘Maybe not yet,’ but I am sure they’ll be back next year.”
The Kazoo Chorale first started five years ago, when a band couldn’t be found to play on Library Day. Former president of the Friends of the Library Sue Zorn suggested kazoos.
“I thought it was crazy, and it was, but it also worked,” Ekstrom said.
Usually, 100 kazoos are given out to Chautauquans, and then they all play in the Chorale. Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill and General and Artistic Director of the Chautauqua Opera Company Steven Osgood have also conducted the Kazoo Chorale in separate years, according to Ekstrom.
Miller, Ekstrom and many other Chautauquans are grateful the library is open this year.
“People are thrilled to be able to come into a building and browse live and be able to touch books and talk to real people. We are regaining our pre-pandemic sense of being a community center,” Ekstrom said. “There’s the concept in sociology of a third place: You got your home and your work, and then you need a Starbucks or you need a church or community center, or something. We are that for a lot of people.”
Donations will also be taken during the event. In years past, the money has gone to new furniture and e-books.