librarians are awesome

I was recently invited to participate in an awesome literacy project, and I wanted to share an excerpt from my contribution:

I want to take a moment and say thank you to librarians, because it was a librarian who made me fall in love with reading. In third or fourth grade, part of our curriculum was a monthly trip to a local library in Tujunga, California. One of the librarians would read us a short story, give a short talk about a literacy-related topic, and then let us pick a book off a table of paperbacks that we could keep. We were also allowed – no, encouraged – to check out up to three books, which we would have a month to read.

I was a nerdy, shy, awkward kid who was scared of everything, and the library intimidated me; I never knew where to start, I was afraid I’d pick a book the the Cool Kids would tease me about reading, and I always felt lost in the stacks. This librarian, though, reached out to me. She asked me what sort of things I liked on TV and in the movies, and recommended a few different books based on my answers, including the first real SciFi book I can recall reading, Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien. I loved it so much, when I went back the next month, she taught me how to use the card catalog to find other books like it, entirely on my own. On that day, the library was transformed from a confusing and intimidating collection of books into a thousand different portals through time and space to fantastic worlds for me to explore.

I don’t remember her name, but I do remember that she was in her fifties, wore epic 1970s polyester pantsuits, huge glasses that hung from a long gold chain around her neck, and had a hairdo that was ten miles high. She was friendly and helpful, and when she reached out to that nerdy little kid, she changed his life. If you’re a librarian today, you probably don’t hear this very often, but thank you. Thank you for making a difference in people’s lives.

Libraries are constantly under attack from people who fear knowledge, politicians who think guns are more important than books, and people who want to ensure that multi-millionaires pocket even more money. As an author, father, and a reader, I beg you: please support your local libraries in any way you can, and if you enjoy reading, take a moment to thank a librarian.

109 thoughts on “librarians are awesome”

  1. First SciFi books! Like so many, mine was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (recommended by a librarian) followed shortly thereafter by Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky. Speculative Fiction has done more to form my character and my world-view than any other influence in my life. Go Librarians!

  2. As a library student, thank you, sir, for your support of librarians! As a Navy brat, librarians were always my first friends in new towns, and they deserve far better than they are getting, especially these days.

  3. I saw something recently where there’s a movement to reduce library budgets by replacing librarians with volunteers. Because apparently, city counsels think that all a librarian does is put books on shelves and use those little wand scanners.
    In Austin, TX; a part-time entry level librarian position requires a 4-year degree in Library Sciences. Any full-time position requires a Masters. You want a management position? 10 years experience minimum plus the Masters with a preference to those with Doctorial degrees. But yeah, anyone walking in off the street can do that job *eyeroll*.
    Support your library and your librarians. If they’re not carrying the books you like, talk to them. It’s their job to make sure they are. That’s why the entire Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher is on the shelves here in Austin. Well, not on the shelves because there’s a waiting list to check them out…but you get the idea.

  4. My librarian in high school gave me a copy of The Book of the Dun Cow and told me to read it. It’s been a long time since I read it and I’m pretty sure I missed some deeper meanings in the book, but one thing it did was turn me on to reading compelling stories. From that point on, I sought out well recommended books and I was never disappointed.
    I also read A Wrinkle in Time and loved it, and man, I just lost myself in sci-fi and fantasy. I absolutely have my librarian to thank for that.

  5. I loved this post. My brother and I, both total nerds, used to compete in the summer reading contest at our local library each year. We always placed in the top 3 because there was little else to do where I grew up other than read, play Super Mario Bros, or toss the Frisbee. Because the library was next door to the grocery store, we borrowed a shopping cart and literally loaded it full of books to check out for the 2 week time limit. We thought using a shopping cart was ingenious; thinking back now, we probably looked a little insane. Oh well. We won. ;)

  6. I am a librarian (a children’s librarian, specifically) and while you’re right about hearing thank you, every time someone says it I’m reminded of why I do what I do.
    Thank you for supporting and acknowledging us and our libraries. It’s pretty awesome to know someone I’m a fan of is a fan of my profession.

  7. Z for Zachariah was one of my first SciFi book as well. I grew up in a small town, and by the time I finished High School I had read every book on the SciFi Shelf (yes, shelf, singular). The first time I went to a real bookstore and saw multiple stacks of SciFi books I immediately worried that it would take too long to read them all.
    The Library back home was a sanctuary, I hope that more kids can find their way to their own library sanctuaries through the fog of popular culture and the internet’s distractions.

  8. As someone who spent many an hour in libraries as a youth as well as present day AND as someone who is married to a librarian … I’d like to say thank you. I don’t know what I would have done with my life had I not been enthralled by all that came from my local libraries.
    I’m happy and proud to live in Ohio which boasts some of the best libraries in the country and I’m even more proud that my wife is a librarian.

  9. Libraries are under constant attack? Really? Don’t you think you may be being just a tad hyperbolic?
    Also, I’m not sure that libraries are under threat from the hostility towards them felt by some people who like guns so much as from the apathy towards them felt by many people who like television and video games.
    (You personally may be both a reader and a TV/game guy. Many geeks are. I don’t propose that these are necessarily mutually exclusive. I simply state the obvious – that people don’t read as much as they used to since electronic media became prevalent in our society).
    I also wonder what the effect on libraries will be if we really do start to see the end of paper in the digital age. If, over the next decade or so, everyone ditches paper and goes out to get a Kindle/Nook/Kobo/iPad/etc., what will the future of the library be? Especially if people start pirating books for these devices on the scale that they currently pirate music for their iPods? It is here, instead of in some more or less imaginary right-wing anti-library campaign, that I could really see a possible death knell for libraries.
    Personally, I find guns and books to both be important. That’s why I’m happy that my rights to have both are protected by the Constitution of the United States.

  10. As a librarian of the 21st century, I’m more of an “IT guy” these days, but I work with a lot of reference librarians who are out there helping the college kids every day. Being around books, information in its various forms made me want to be a librarian. Being a gamer/computer dork eventually turned me into an IT librarian. Best of both worlds really.

  11. My mother was a reference librarian for 30 years here in the South SF Bay Area. She’s retired 6 years now, and I cannot tell you the blessings of having her as a mother. I owe any semblance of smarts I have to this woman who knew how to find information about anything the brain could possibly think up. Thanks for this tribute to an almost forgotten band of brothers and sisters who are really struggling now to not only keep their passion alive, but to keep these libraries open and available to those who still use and need them. Thanks, Wil.

  12. I spent a lot of time at the library as a kid. My mom took us at least once a week – twice or more in the summer. It was a solidly middle class neighborhood but the library was amazing. Their collection was up to date and the children’s programming was excellent. Storytime of course, but also crafts, and all kinds of science and history lessons.
    I live in NYC now, and the Queens library is currently asking for donations. Learn more here.

  13. I hope I never forget the waiter who stopped mid-order and said “I know you! You helped me get through high school!” Kids like him and like you are what make the job fun.
    The proposed Texas state budget for the next two years eliminates the Loan Star program, interlibrary loan and the TexShare database access. Apparently our legislators were never library users. http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/home/888925-264/proposed_budget_in_texas_nearly.html.csp

  14. I had much the same experience as a child. Though I also encountered a fair number of stern librarians, they weren’t enough to keep me away from the shelves, card catalog and microfiche. I used to love going to visit my grandmother because once she got tired of me I’d get dropped off at her local library and have a whole new set of books to pour over.
    I wonder when it was that I lost my love of libraries. My wife has worked hard to keep get our kids to the library on a regular basis. I think I need to be a lot more supportive of that effort.

  15. Holy Cow! I never thought of that! I’m sure NO LIBRARIAN has ever considered the impact of gaming and eBooks on future library use! This is NOT something we are DOING anything about or TALKING about all the time!!! **HEADDESK**
    For your Reference, a short list:
    “Libraries Are Screwed” by Eli Neiburger from the eBook Summit in 2010 http://bit.ly/f90tie
    The 8bit Library Blog: http://blog.8bitlibrary.com/
    The Library and Information Technology Blog: http://litablog.org/

  16. Her name was Ms. Wilt and on our weekly trip to the school library, she terrified me. But when I finished reading all the books in the elementary school section (I was a fast reader and those were short books). she let me go and choose from the middle school section. When I got to middle school, she wasn’t surprised when I was reading (and understanding) Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. I got a perfect score on my AR (Accelerated Reading) test for Moby Dick and My teacher refused to believe that I could have actually understood the book, but Ms. Wilt defended me.
    I went back a few years ago, but Ms. Wilt had retired. To this day, I still spend most of my time in libraries (how else will I know which books I want to buy at Powell’s?) and as Jorge Luis Borges once said, “I have always imagined Paradise will be a kind of library”. And if it’s the library at Unseen University, it will have an orangutan for a librarian.

  17. I’m not usually a commenter, but I had to do so when I read this blog entry. In 5th grade, my teacher read Z for Zachariah to us in class. Our assignment was to complete the story since the author had died before completing the book. The haunting story sticks with me to this day. I can picture Ann at her piano and her dreams of children in a school needing a teacher. As a child growing up at the end of the cold war (yes I’m only a few years older than you), the idea of a nuclear holocaust was a real fear.
    I was lucky to grow up in a small town with amazing librarians. I learned to read at age 3 and have carried a love of books (and sci fi) with me since then. Did you ever read the John Christopher Tripod series? Another set of books from my early sci fi reading days.

  18. Just wanted to add another thank you to the list. As a new librarian it means a lot to know that there is still a lot of support out there for libraries. I grew up a reader and I love what I do as a librarian helping people find what they are looking for, whether it’s a book or a picture for a school report. It’s worth it.

  19. Her name was Ms. Coutts and she was the librarian at my middle school. For my service class, I was assigned to the library with her and she opened my eyes to reading. I’d already read books before, but Ms. Coutts made it magical. She tried for weeks to help me find my genre and when we found it, we celebrated. From then on my teachers were constantly frustrated because my nose was in a book in every class, but I couldn’t have cared less and my mother supported me. There probably wasn’t a single sci-fi/fantasy books that I hadn’t read in that library before I left for high school.
    It’s because of Ms. Coutts that I became a Teacher Librarian and I often find myself tempted to recommend books to random strangers in bookstores.
    Thank you, Ms. Coutts.
    And thank you, Wil! My weekend will be awesome all because of this post.

  20. The library was a favorite destination of mine as a child, and as a teenager. One of the people who first inspired me, the librarian. She was a wonderful, friendly woman who always had a suggestion for me on new reading material. And she never talked down to me, just to me. I miss her.

  21. I thank you as a librarian, a writer, and a geek! And as to the notion that libraries aren’t “under attack”, my state’s legislature is already proposing eliminating most, if not all, state funding for libraries. When states, counties, or cities take their budgets to the chopping block…libraries are often among the first to suffer.
    Libraries are more than books…they are access points for information, both print and digital. They are places that people can become more informed without political, social, or economic, bias. They are vital to a healthy democracy and a healthy economy.

  22. Another Liberian here to say thank you. You made me cry! I am in an elementary school and your story is absolutely why. Each time I hear I turned a student onto a book that got them into reading, I feel like my job is worthwhile.

  23. What a coincidence – I was just visiting my local library this morning, picking up another SciFi book. I think my first was Escape to Witch Mountain, unless you want to count some of the Hardy Boys mystery stories that could come close.

  24. Yes, librarians and libraries are awesome but they aren’t under attack by the usual bogey men favored by Liberals that you list. According to the articles linked to by the Measure L supporting commenters, it’s the liberal Jerry Brown himself who wants to slash library funding. And while the Measure L ballot appears to be worth supporting, it seeks an INCREASE in funding from the .0175 guaranteed portion of the Los Angeles general fund to .03. Failure to obtain that increase isn’t slashing funding, it’s keeping funding where it’s supposed to be. If libraries aren’t receiving their guaranteed funding, look to the Mayor and City Council, who, oddly, support this measure; they’re the ones who control the purse strings.

  25. Thank you!!!! As a Library Assistant who hasn’t had a stellar week, your post reminds us of how we can impact the life of a child. Thank you!!!!!

  26. As much as I'd like to believe that California – and Los Angeles, in particular – are the center of the universe, they are not. All over the country, and also in the UK, libraries are suffering from spending cuts.

  27. As SimonXIX pointed out above, Libraries are closing everywhere due to budget cuts.
    Here in Wellington, New Zealand, our local libraries are having closures over a $400k shortfall, just 60 days after signing an agreement for $600k for a Library Management Software Package – without even going to tender.
    Koha is a FREE, open source library management package that is truly world class. Used by thousands of libraries outside the the US (and a few smart ones in the US!) is gives all the functionality necessary to run your systems… but the only costs are if someone has to be hired to do the IT dog work of installation, migration or customisation.
    I don’t get paid for writing this- Koha is a free worldwide project, like so many other free software projects.
    One caveat though: DO go to http://koha-community.org/ . Do NOT go to http://www.Koha.org – that is a for profit company that is exploiting their ownership of the koha website name to sell services related to the free software. Selling the services is fine, holding the name hostage is…. tacky.

  28. Z for Zachariah was one of my very first Sci-Fi books as well. My 7th grade English teacher had a great love of YA Sci-Fi. She introduced me to the Heinlein juveniles which sent me running to the school library for McCaffrey, Herbert, Norton, Asiamov, Bradbury and many others. I read Stranger In a Strange Land when I was 16 and it changed my life. It was recommended to my by a (very liberal)librarian at my high school. Thank you librarians everywhere!

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