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. For as long as I can remember, books and libraries have always been my safe haven. As an adult, it scares me when the library has to cut hours or programs because they just don’t have the budget. I would be lost without a local library. I could never afford to buy everything that I want to read.

  2. I suspect the stories “all over the country and in the UK” are similar: tough times call for tough funding decisions. Decisions made not by the people you demonize but by politicians across a broad political spectrum. Politicians who very likely share your political point of view. You know, politicians like Jerry Brown.

  3. Amen brother! When I was in 2nd grade our school librarian read “How to Eat Fried Worms” to our class. She took her time and spent at least a week reading us that story and each day I couldn’t wait to get back in the library to here what happened next. I loved her for that.
    When I was a freshman in Junior High I worked in the school library and often thought I would like to be a librarian some day. But alas, I soon found the geek in me and became an IT gal instead. But I still love the library.
    Love this post.

  4. Speaking as a once shy nerdy kid, I loved this article so much. I worked at a library in high school- while most kids were flipping burgers, I was flipping pages. I reshelved books mostly, but loved pointing patrons in the right direction of a desired volume. And if I ran out of books, I would curl up in a corner and read. Best job ever.

  5. Uh. Your “obvious” statement that “people don’t read as much as they used to since electronic media became prevalent in our society” isn’t actually as true as you assume. In fact, more American adults are reading literature now than they were eight years ago, with especially large leaps for the 18-24 age range, which bodes well for the future of reading in this country. (Here’s the 2009 survey from which I’m pulling my info:
    This “reading crisis” that everyone imagines we’re in is almost certainly no different from any of the other supposed reading crises that the country has gone through in the past few centuries. Pretty much every generation feels the need to gasp and despair that “No one reads anymore!” But, well, books are still here. People still read them.
    Shinyinfo already gave you the smackdown about eBooks, so I’m not going to touch that one.

  6. Um, things are not ok in Los Angeles libraries. 100+ individuals have been laid off, staffing and hours have been cut by 28%. All branches are closed Sunday and Monday. The City is in the process of charging all “indirect” expenditures, i.e., pension funding, maintenance, landscaping, custodial and security, utilities, and so on to the Library budget. That transition will continue regardless of the result of Measure L. If Measure L does not pass, there will be a further significant reduction in services.

  7. The plural of anecdote is not data, but I can personally attest to my reading absolutely exploding since I got my Kindle. I still love actual books, but my Kindle is *always* with me, on my iPad, on my Android, on my Kindle itself, so I can read pretty much whenever I have a free moment.
    I can also attest to the real challenge of convincing a child to read at a time when books are in competition with instant messaging, portable and console video games, and the ubiquity of smart phones.

  8. I am proud to say my kids (both under age 6) squeal with excitement and delight whenever its library time. We love it there, and I love that my kids have picked up on its greatness. I certainly hope they don’t go the way of the dinosaur, they are such a special place.

  9. I forgot to mention that the .0175 – .03 is not 1% to 3% of the total City budget. The amount set aside for the Library at the end of the four year period is 3 one-hundredths of 1% of the City’s property tax proceeds – a little more than 2% of the total City budget. Also, I apologize for the double entry…

  10. I fondly remember my years of pestering my local librarian, Mrs. Watts. I was a complete bookworm and, with my parents permission, she allowed me to check out twice as many books as were normally permitted for kids so that I would not run out of books to read when the library was closed on weekends. She completely fostered in me a love of books that has lasted a lifetime.

  11. Wil, the librarian at the Sunland-Tujunga Branch when you were in third grade was Ms. Schumberger. (And it was third, not fourth grade. There was a special program, funded by the Friends of the Library, that brought all third graders in the neighborhood to the library and gave each of them a free paperback book.) Ms. Schumberger retired more than 20 years ago and was replaced by another fine children’s librarian.

  12. Amen! As an Navy vet and a current Army wife the first thing I do in a new town is to check out the library.
    Thanks for posting this story, Wil. My high school librarian would always let me sit in the library during lunchtime. Saved my life.

  13. @Gtpodcast Actually,having worked in libraries before,I can tell you that they’ve had their funding cut all over the place due to the recession because our priorities have been elsewhere.The state of Pennsylvania tried to shut down all of Philadelphia’s public libraries for a few months to save money–imagine,in the home of free public libraries!Fortunately,citizens from all over the country banded together and wrote the PA legislature,and they saved them.That’s what Wil’s talking about,not some kind of anti-library campaign.It’s the attitude that libraries are growing obsolete that’s the threat more than anything else.
    And librarians now get degrees in what’s called Library Sciecnes And Information Services.The last two words there are important.Librarianship is more about information management now,helping people find the information they need in whatever format,regardless of medium.The skills for managing data are what’s the main commodity of librarians right now,and since we’re moving into an era where information is essentially currency,that’s a very valuable skill to have!

  14. My sister and I spent a lot of time at the library after school. We’d meet our friends there and usually hang out in the children’s section even when we were too old because the librarians were so nice. She would help us with our homework if we needed it. All of us got good grades and I think the library and the librarians were a major reason why. They made learning easy and fun.

  15. I agree, Libraries ARE awesome. The Public Library in my home town let us gamers use the community room to play when it wasn’t in use or reserved, otherwise we’d sit in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy room and play, helping those who wandered in find whatever they were searching for, and suggesting other great books. I have tried to support the local Libraries whenever possible.
    Any word on ECCC in Seattle this year, Wil?

  16. I don’t know her name, but I do know the library. Hartford, CT, on Main Street.
    I was living in the shelter (Mercy House, I think it was called) a few blocks down the street between semesters my final year at university (I went to school in Boston), so that I wouldn’t have to go back “home” to my abusive mother in Colorado. The shelter kicked us out at 8am every day, and we couldn’t come back until 4pm.
    Every day, except Sundays, I’d go to the library from 10am, when they opened, until 4:30pm or so when I could go back to the shelter. On Sundays I’d be at the library from 1pm to 4:30pm.
    I read and wrote all day in the library, then checked out books upon books (thanks to the Sisters at the shelter signing the paperwork so I could get a temporary library card) to read at night in the shelter, when I was too scared to sleep.
    The Sisters at the shelter saved my life, but the library and the librarians staffing it saved my sanity. I don’t know who they were, but I am forever grateful that they were there.
    Thank you.

  17. Today has been a sad day for me. I said goodbye to a lot good people being let go from my library system, not because they weren’t doing a good job, and not because there wasn’t a demand for their service, but because of politics and small minded, short sighted thinking. I read Phillip Pullman’s statement yesterday and yours today and am grateful that there are people out there who get it. You warmed the cockles of my heart today Wil,and normally no one touches my cockles.

  18. As a technophile and information worker,I say that libraries aren’t just for books anymore. I use my library to access tech books, downloadable media for my ereader (I hate the Nook. Sony all -the-way) and iPod, and Web-based applications to keep my tech and foreign language skills up to date.
    For job-seekers, libraries offer classes on MS Office, resume-writing and ESL. Libraries can help American workers be competent and competitive in a global market and new immigrants in an American market. Learning shouldn’t stop after you graduate or because you cannot afford to go to school.

  19. As a newly published author (my first book just became available in late December 2010) three of the first books printed by me were sent to three libraries. One went to the US Library of Congress. One went to the University of Illinois Library where I attended college, and finally one was donated by me to my local community library. I’m a strong believer in supporting both your local community library system, and the college and other school libraries.

  20. I’m just another in a long line of Youth Services librarians who have gotten in line to thank you today. Thank you. Stories like that are why we do what we do. Well… that and the snack.

  21. Mr.Wheaton,I only discovered you and started following you a little less than a year ago,and I have to say,you just get more and more awesome the longer I do.I’m applying to graduate programs for Library Services and Children’s Lit programs now,hoping to be the next fifty-something little old lady with ten-mile-high hair who inspires a future awesome person!;-)
    Might I just also say,it’s especially helpful to see someone so tech-savvy and such an advocate for other media forms of entertainment talk about how important libraries and books are?It doesn’t seem to impress others very much when someone like me does it,but when a New Media star does,it makes a point.:-)

  22. Thank you from another librarian (and geek). As a military brat, I spent a lot of my childhood going from base to base. It didn’t matter what language the locals talked, or what my home for that tour would look like, but whenever I went to the library, the librarians there made me feel right at home. I hope someday that I will be remembered as you remember that librarian in Tujunga.

  23. HI Wil, just asking, since here in Italy we have a different take on what a librarian should or should not offer to our kids, can I link this post to my blog and (most important) can i translate it to Italian?

  24. Z for Zachariah was one of the first books I read also I don’t recall where I got it from — probably not a library — but I was blessed to live in Mar Vista, California, and could visit an awesome Science Fiction/Fantasy book store in Santa Monica called A Change of Hobbit.
    While I’m presently in Afghanistan (and far from any libraries), I devoured several fantasy and science fiction series when I was home most recently. I ordered the Subterranean Press edition of The Best Days of Our Lives and love it. It is incredible how people can have roughly parallel experiences when their formative years were in the same general area.

  25. Hi Wil-
    As another librarian, I also want to say THANK YOU! Librarians are who they are because of their dedication to service and literacy and their love of reading. But it’s also people like you that make up the other half of the equation – I’m glad you had such a (pleasantly!) memorable experience. And by the way, I’ve never “shushed” anyone! :)

  26. I just graduated with Masters in Lib and Info Science last year.
    Emphasized in school was advocating for libraries, no one can do it better then individuals stepping up to speak out.
    Thank You.
    Also, it is important for people to understand….I will make less as a Librarian starting out then I did as an Executive Assistant. You do not choose librarianship for the money, you choose it for difference you can make.

  27. As a public librarian, I don’t know it if was a good or bad thing to read the comments.
    Texas State Libraries took a major hit in the budget. This is how we have funded sharing the costs of databases, InterLibrary Loan services, even incentives and programs for Summer Reading Programs. It also means job positions.
    The ironic thing is that we’re not looking how to cut those services–we’re looking at how we can still offer those services under the constraints without the public feeling a bump. And if we do our job right, we make it look easy in such a way that comments like the “libraries are irrelevent” continue.
    We’re dancing as fast as we can. Thank you, Wil, for your support.

  28. My partner is a librarian of sorts(as his sister), and the librarians in the little library in my own home town feature strongly in my memories because they gave me the keys to a whole world of literature. This post resonates with me – thanks for celebrating these international treasures!

  29. Drowning in a sea of fandom, so I doubt this comment would ever EVER get recognized, but:
    I have family that are librarians, so I’d be a real dick if I didn’t thank them every so often.

  30. As a paraprofessional librarian, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this excellent essay about the difference we make in people’s lives. Too often, we face threats from state legislatures in an effort to balance state budgets that we are no longer relevant in the age of the Internet and that we don’t really need libraries like we once did. So thank you for standing up for our profession. We need all the support we can get!
    Sally Burnell
    Paraprofessional Librarian
    Akron-Summit County (OH) Public Library
    Bookmobile Department

  31. Thank you. As someone whose grade school librarian totally understood his inner nerd reader that he became a librarian too, I really identify with your story. I met my school librarian again this year for the first time in 40 years and it was awesome! Thanks for the memories.

  32. Wil, thanks for another great post!
    I have always enjoyed libraries and was a voracious reader as a child and am again as an adult. They’re like a gallery of life stories, reference material, and far away worlds…all at your fingertips.
    I got back into reading in 2008 when I borrowed (by happy accident) and read (as there wasn’t anything on TV) my first sci-fi novel and thus became the latest-blooming geek ever!
    In 2009, I decided to donate a dollar to my local library for every book (or other item) I borrowed over the year. I wrote a check for $220.00 for 2009 and $213 for 2010. The staff were a bit stunned about my $1 per book borrowed donation the first time I did it. Then last year, they actively tried to guess the number of books I’d borrowed.
    I’m not rolling in dough or anything… I just think of the library as supporting my ‘reading habit’ since I don’t smoke or like coffee. I hope other people will read this and consider supporting their libraries anyway they can. Libraries are a more important than anyone ever realizes until they don’t have access to one.

  33. My longest friendship is with a woman who is now a librarian at UNLV. We go back almost 24 years, we met at the 1987 SF Worldcon in Brighton, UK.
    I always held librarians in awe, one of the things I might aspire to be. As a kid I placed a librarian somewhere at the top of the chain of jobs to hold even though I never approached them (If anyone of you think you were shy as a kid, you don’t know shy unless you were one to shy away even from friendly people that clearly want to help you)

  34. Love it! I’ve mentioned this post on my blog as I’m a school librarian who is currently frustrated at the moment as libraries and librarians are seen as an easy cut.
    As for the future libraries – they are so much more than the books format – they are a place to get that content free of charge, get a expert to help match you to something you’d enjoy, find useful or get help to find out ways to do this yourself. They are education for all and a it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from the library offers you the chance to explore, discover and take pleasure in the written word in all it’s many and varied formats.

  35. I remember, like many other commenters here, just how much my local library meant to me as a safe haven and learning environment.
    Although I didn’t have a favourite librarian who helped me find a direction; I remember the physical sense of walking into the main section, the light coming through the skylights, the sound of rain on the roof on a wet day. The smell of the books and those particular kind of felted floor tiles. All that lives in my memory. That library gave me the chance to go from Ursula Le Guin to Gore Vidal to Philip K. Dick to William Goldsmith and more.
    Sadly, seventeen years ago, I think the ladies who worked there were more worried about whether there would be a library next year and where they’d be redeployed – if they could hold onto their jobs. They were all polite and very efficient at what they did, which is a sadly underestimated skill in many areas. I can only imagine what it is like now.
    I understand, truly, why libraries in many countries are under threat. I dislike being the Devil’s Advocate but I know why politicians will sacrifice libraries when they have people coming at them why their loved ones can’t have hospital or respite care, decent housing, or public transport, or whatever subjective, important and personal thing that can be thrown at those officials.
    Libraries are targets. And that is a terribly sad thing because whilst money is tight it paves the way for doing away with the facility of a centred public learning environment. Unless you have the income to buy it. It says something about a culture if learning for all becomes ‘learning if you have enough money to pay for it’.
    Thank you to all the librarians/information managers or whatever your title is, where you have been part of the opportunity of learning for all.

  36. Like other librarians, I thank you for your comments. Though my name may not be remembered, I like to think that at least a few adults have fond memories of their days in the high school library!

  37. As I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford the books I want to read, I don’t really use libraries but I know how important they are.
    I have this (possibly weird) affection with books in that I think they are rather personal items, even if it’s a mass market paperback and I don’t like lending them to people (especially not after a classmate took my hardback copy of Pet Sematary camping and brought it back with a broken spine). I guess this is the legacy of my grandmother who taught me to treat books well so they might serve you a lifetime. Every time I’m back at my parents’ house (she used to live upstairs) I browse her shelves and marvel at her books from the early 1900s (or even earlier) and how pristine they still are despite having been read many times.
    When I inherit the house (which will hopefully be a long time off), I hope I’ll be able to find an appropriate space for her books because selling them with the house or getting rid of them in another way would break my heart.

  38. Madeline L’Engle’s a Wrinkle in Time was my first SciFi book, also introduced to me by a librarian, after which I voraciously read every book she ever wrote, wrote a paper on her in both third, fourth and fifth grade, and made her a pen pal as part of a class project (she wrote back several times AND sent me a bookmark!) I read Z is for Zachariah and it made me so very sad. I reread it and it again made me cry. I hope for so much more of us. I read so much now I don’t quite remember all the authors names, though every story is written forever in my head, and I can recite back to you . If you haven’t yet, may I highly recommend reading ALL of William Gibson. You’ll love them as much as I, my friends.

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