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Partying with the library krewe
Savannah Balloons artiste Lynnae Weller with her Mardi Gras masterpiece.

Welcome to the Emerald City! St. Patrick's Day means we're gearing up for the South's most rousing parade and rowdiest party, and I expect y'all will be shamrockin' 'til the break of dawn all week.

My green satin gloves have been carefully laundered and I have a fresh tube of red lipstick for planting smackers on the BC boys. But I may have to take it easy on the Jameson slushies this year, as I’m still recovering from Live Oak Public Libraries Carnivale-themed gala a couple of Saturdays back.

Wait, you seem skeptical. A party? At the library? Like, the place with all the books where you have to be quiet?

Oh, don’t be fooled by the shushing and studious reputation; you’ve never seen the Library in evening dress. The LOPL staff transformed the Southwest Chatham branch into a magical Mardi Gras Shangri-La, draping the soaring ceilings and sleek modern staircase in glittering finery. Black-tied attendants passed around hors d’oeuvres and peach bellinis among Savannah’s philanthropic literati (or literary philanthropati, as it were.)

Properly disguised with feathered masquerades and plenty of beads, my husband and I were greeted by library director Christian Kruse, himself resplendent in ruffled 18th century Lord of the Manor attire.

“Welcome to the castle,” he intoned, bowing gallantly as he held open the door, the anti-theft sensors twinkling like stars. (If you honestly believe that pinchy-faced mean librarian stereotype, you have definitely not met Christian.)

And then I was loose. Nothing invites a book nerd to excess like an open bar and a chance to skip among the stacks afterhours, and I could not contain myself from full-blown bibliophilic ecstasy.

First thing I did was bound over to the children’s section for a photo op with Clifford the Big Red Dog. Next, I strummed my fingers over a row of titles on the New Fiction shelf. Then, overcome with the illicitness of it all, I danced a little jig around the circulation desk until my husband commanded me to stop.

“You may be wearing a mask, but you are not actually invisible,” he scolded me in a very librarian-like whisper.

I flicked a bell on his jester hat. We made our way over to admire a statue wearing a stunning frock comprised entirely of purple, green and gold balloons. Due to the special library magic in the air, we immediately bumped into the creator of this masterpiece, Savannah Balloons owner Lynnae Weller, who lends her pliable talents to all manner of library programming. (What would storytime be without balloon animals?)

My husband was understandably quite taken with Lynnae’s twee balloon chapeau, perched atop her head like a miniature zeppelin.

“I like your party hat,” he offered, feeling jesterly enough to break out the Go, Dog, Go! references. “I do! I do like your party hat!

Lynnae curtseyed with the decorum of a Brontë sister and the impishness of Dr. Suess. Where could she have possibly learned such a skill as balloon haberdashery?

“From books,” she declared primly.

Of course she did!

Several Bartholomew Cubbins-esque exchanges later, it was on to the silent auction. Now, there are always a couple of nice bottles of liquor to bid on at these types of things, in case you don’t go in for the usual spa packages and barbecue sauce baskets. Should any doubts linger that the Library knows how to party, consider that this silent auction featured an entire bourbon table.

Our masks more than a bit caddywhompus at this point, we got briefly lost in the biography section and finally found dinner seats with Bicycle Link owners and avid readers Jon and Amy Skiljan, along with middle school Language Arts teacher Christine Kirkland and her husband Glenn. Former Effingham newspaper publisher Julie Weddle and her husband, library board member Larry Weddle, sat to my right. As if things weren’t literary enough, we were joined by Sherry Cortez, reference assistant at the Georgia Historical Society.

Whaaat, a real, live librarian?

“Is this heaven?” I whispered.

Surrounded by fellow bookies, I had to ask my new krewe what they had on their nightstands: Sherry the Librarian endorsed Hugh Howey’s Wool, the latest in the post-apocalyptic dystopian genre that all the kids are reading these days. Christine cited J.K. Rowling’s Casual Vacancy—on audio. Amy pulled out her phone to show that she’d just downloaded Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s autobiography.

I interviewed novelist Alice Hoffman for the Savannah Book Festival last month, so I recommended the library’s hardcover copy of The Dovekeepers (omitting that it was three days overdue.)

More library wizardry was at work in the buffet line, where we waited with architect power couple Reshma and Michael Johnson. The latter was part of the Greenline team that built this graceful edifice, the county’s first LEED-certified building with its energy-efficient construction materials and irrigation-free landscaping. But those are hardly the building’s sexiest attributes.

“We designed this library around parties and events,” explained Michael, smiling as we admired the wide hallways and lofty second floor, grand as any Madame Bovary ballroom.

Clean, well-lighted spaces are definitely the trend in library design, and LOPL is eager to welcome two new jewels to its crown, one in Garden City and a new Islands branch off Johnny Mercer Blvd. Christian describes them as “fraternal twins” with identical layouts and different color schemes, each featuring a dreamy children’s spot and quiet nooks for studying (and potentially consuming the entire Divergent trilogy in one sitting. )

Both will open their doors later this year, thanks to a chunk of SPLOST taxes and the generous donations of many of the masked marauders present.

Speaking of which, many more dollars found their way to the library coffers as the highfalutin live auction commenced. Our table was suspiciously quiet as we busied ourselves with our dessert of king cake and lady fingers.

We each support the library how we can, us working folk consoled each other. Who needs a Spanish vacation or a Tuscan villa, when the most important things in life don’t cost a thing?

“You can’t buy a library card,” pointed out the sagacious jester to my left.

We raised our glasses, toasting to public libraries and the endless worlds to which they lead.