HAMPDEN Paul Conlon was one of dozens of people who paused on a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning to browse through a few pages, to offer a trade, to maybe borrow a book or two at the second Hampden Book Swap, held on the lawn of the now-closed town library on Sept. 10.
"I love libraries. I used to come to this one, and now I can't come to this one and I can't go to Wilbraham [Public Library] and I need my book fix," Conlon told Reminder Publications as he thumbed the pages of a novel.
Over at the children's table, a clutch of eager young readers were pouring over the selections. Some took books over to the Library steps to look them over better before taking their choices home.
A few decided to change their minds.
"One boy found a Harry Potter book. He was very excited," Cindy Baily, co-organizer of the event told this reporter as we watched the stream of would be readers come to browse and select.
It was just what Baily had hoped would happen.
"Without the library I just wanted to have some community spirit event to keep the library in mind ... [a place] for people to come together and share books and keep in mind how important [the library] is to us all," Bailey said.
"Some people think of the library as the heart of a community. We sort-of have a broken heart," she added.
Baily and an anonymous co-volunteer started working on the book swap idea shortly after the Hampden Public Library officially closed its doors on July 1, following the May 16 election defeat of a Proposition 2 1/2 override request of $584,796 to fund the Library and other town services.
She said it took the two volunteers about 40 hours to coordinate the book donations and event volunteers, publicize the swap and get the concept off the ground.
The first book swap, held in August, attracted about 100 people.
"People bring books," said Bailey of the way the swap has worked for the first two times. "The plan is that they take the same number that they bring. We're not taking large quantities. We want it to be a swap; we have no storage."
The September swap also featured a raffle for door prizes, and a group running a lemonade stand to raise monies for Hurricane Katrina relief.
September door prize contributors included the Hampden Sign Corporation, Barbie and Tina at The Mane Event, who donated a gift certificate, an anonymous donor, who gave a gift bag, and Bilton's which contributed a plant.
In addition, Margie Sullivan, a New York City actress and former Hampden resident, traveled back to her hometown to read for the September children's story hour in support of the Book Swap.
The book she read was aptly titled "Mary Had a Little Ham."
"I think this is a great project that Cindy has put together ... I hope it sends a message that the library will reopen," Sullivan said. "I can't imagine being a child without access to a library. The Library closed ... the Senior Center closed ... I'm upset about both. What kind of a message does it send?"
"Someone asked me if I thought a child really needed a library ... you can buy them books, and there is the Internet," said Hampden Library Trustee Beth Berger. "But I think there is something wonderful about being overwhelmed with choices, of taking care of a book and bringing it back, and the socialization of being in a library."
According to Berger, the town of Hampden had about 4,000 borrowers registered with its library.
At present, Hampden has the distinction of being among the first towns in the country to close its public library due to a lack of citizen support for its funding.