By Ron Hayes
Lu McInnes has closed the book on more than two decades as Briny Breezes’ town librarian.
And Donna Clarke is checking out her new job.
“I’d talked about retiring,” McInnes says. “I knew I’d had it too long. People said, ‘Oh, you do such a great job, don’t go.’ But then when Donna came along, she had everything you need for it. I chose her.”
On a recent Wednesday morning, the two women sat at a table across from the bodice-ripper shelf and chatted about what the little town’s little library was, and what it might become.
The room was appropriately quiet. The women laughed a lot.
“How long was I here? Well, let’s see,” McInnes began. “I’m in Briny 40-something years. Forty-five, I think. And permanently for 20-something.”
Eventually, she decided she’d been the town’s unpaid, untiring librarian for 22 years.
Clarke was equally specific.
“My great-grandparents came to Briny in 1960-something,” she said. “Sixty-seven maybe?”
Her great-grandparents came, and then her grandparents, her parents, and now she’s here, a fourth-generation Brinyite after 28 years teaching special ed and pre-K in Marion, Ohio.
The library takes a relaxed approach to dates, too.
Officially, the little room beside the shuffleboard courts is open 365 days a year from
9 a.m. to 6 p.m. But most of that time, it’s empty.
The librarian is there 10:30-11:30 a.m. on Mondays, and 2-3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The rest of the time, borrowers drop in, make their selections, write down the titles on a book card and leave the card behind. The librarian stamps it with a date when the book’s returned.
The official borrowing period is seven days. Or 14 if the book’s more than 350 pages.
“It’s the honor system,” McInnes explained. “I bought a really big Washington Irving story collection with really small print once and we didn’t see it for over a year.”
Most libraries have a children’s section. Briny Breezes’ has a grandchildren’s shelf.
Still, the librarian’s simple life was even simpler 20-something years ago.
“There were no DVDs then,” McInnes recalled. “No VCRs.”
She looked around the room, cataloging the changes she’s seen. Her husband, Bob, built the bookcase in the west wall, she said; the reserve case in the north wall, the little VCR room, the checkout desk. He donated 80-some Louis L’Amour books for the Westerns section, too.
One summer, she painted all the shelves in the fiction section.
“The most popular title?” She thought a moment.
“If I said The Bible, that’s what you’d expect,” she said, and thought some more. “James Patterson,” she decided.
Officially, the librarian’s torch was passed during the town’s Nov. 21 council meeting. But the real moment came earlier that day, when the two women drove to the Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Boynton Beach on a buying trip.
Why not just order from amazon.com?
McInnes almost gasped. “That would take all the fun out of it! The book trip — that was the fun of being librarian! That and the friendliness. I loved working Monday morning, when the people came in to get their books for the week.”
The town contributes $1,500 a year to the library budget, McInnes said, but most of that goes for supplies. The real bulk of the books’ cost is paid by its “Library Angels,” residents who donate to have a memorial plate put in a book to honor a deceased loved one.
“But the book has to be a distinguished biography or something,” she warned Clarke. “You can’t put a memorial plate in a bodice-ripper.”
Now, McInnes said, she can go to the pool and take long walks along Old Ocean Boulevard without having to worry about getting her list of new books and bestsellers to the The Briny Bugle on deadline.
That’s Clarke’s challenge now.
“Lu’s done such a great job, my first goal is to continue that,” she said. “I want to keep the old charm.”
Her second goal is to enlarge the DVD collection from its current 150-some titles.
And then she wants to winnow out the unused books to make room for newer, more popular titles.
Recently, the library donated any novels not checked out for five years to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, to be placed in the county jail for prisoners.
“Except the bodice-rippers,” McInnes noted.
She scanned the room she’s tended for 20-odd years, the books she’s loved, the changes she’s seen.
“I remember when the bodice-ripper section was enlarged so we could carry more large-print books,” she said.
“No, no, no! We used the extra space for large-print books. Not large-print bodice-ripper books.”
Clarke chuckled. “You know,” she mused, “I bet there’d be an audience for that …”
For two seconds, the two women looked at each other in silence, and then the library rang with laughter.