Thankful for Public Libraries

This was a typical Monday night at the library in the insistent dark of November. I had spent much of the day weeding, which is library jargon for the bittersweet job of getting rid of books to make room for more, and was checking in with patrons as closing time drew near when a woman who didn’t need my assistance doubled back and thanked us for our good books display, and all the satisfying reading it had provided image of hands with book courtesy of bollaeszter via flickrher over the years. Smiling with reciprocal gratitude, it occurred to me that I really ought to write something for our library blog on the theme of Thanksgiving. I was just turning to find fitting quotes about the value of libraries when another woman approached the desk and obviated all research.

She confirmed my name with some hesitance, and I was about to come around the desk to make things feel less formal when I realized she wasn’t just being shy – she was fighting back tears. I settled into that open yet guarded expectancy that public librarians know so well as I waited to see what variety of human extremity was about to bare its miserable breast before me. Would this be penury, insanity, or perhaps just the sheer tragedy of being the 1,001st person in line for The Lost Symbol? But it was none of these things.

She gradually brought herself to tell me of a friend of hers who had died about a year ago, and who had been a patron of ours at the library. This friend had been a deeply private person, she said, but not long before she died had spoken very highly of the assistance she had received at our library. Further, although she did not have many possessions to bestow, the patron made a point of passing along my business card, proffered with what she described as the gravity usually reserved for the exchange of Japanese meishi, telling her to seek us out.

image of statue hand with book courtesy of opacity via flickrThe woman had overcome her reluctance (and tears) because she felt that not enough people made bold to share such expressions of gratitude. I thanked her deeply, and we managed to talk a little about her favorite audiobooks and how to download them before we closed up shop for the night.

What I failed to tell her was something I’m not in the habit of saying to patrons: that she was wrong. People thank us all the time. While emotional exchanges like this one may not be everyday, that librarian is rare indeed who does not have a few of them tucked close to their heart against some rainy day, to remind us of what we’re doing and why, and just how much it may mean to our patrons.

image of book released on the shore courtesy of mafaldaQ via FlickrSo this Thanksgiving, I am thankful to be a librarian, a vocation that ever calls out to and nourishes the very best in us. And I am thankful for public libraries, where people are all welcomed alike, no matter how disparate or desperate their needs:
a place that runs on stories and on kindness, and is filled with the giving and getting of thanks.

                       Go on: tell us what you’re thankful for.

                               ~ A Librarian

Meet your new City Librarian

Everyone is invited to an open house to meet new City Librarian Susan Hildreth from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7, in the Microsoft Auditorium at the Central Library. Stop by any time during the open house to visit with Hildreth and enjoy refreshments!

hildreth4There will be a brief program at 2:30 p.m. featuring remarks by Mayor Greg Nickels, City Councilman Nick Licata, Library Board President Eric Liu, The Seattle Public Library Foundation Board President Susan Adkins, Friends of The Seattle Public Library President Linda Ruiz and Hildreth.

Hildreth comes to Seattle from California, where she was the state librarian. While there, Hildreth managed a $70 million budget supporting California libraries and cultural institutions. Before that, Hildreth was city librarian of San Francisco, overseeing an annual operating budget of more than $58 million and a $130 million building program.

Hildreth is the former president of the Public Library Association and served on its board of directors. She was an elected member of the council that governs the American Library Association. She is a longtime member of the California Library Association and has served as its president and treasurer. Hildreth graduated cum laude from Syracuse University and holds a master’s degree in library science from the State University of New York at Albany and a master’s degree in business from Rutgers University.

Fantastic librarians, or librarian fantasies?

In a recent post, I enthused about a few of my favorite fictional librarians, and invited others to share their favorites. The suggestions that followed were many and varied, ranging from Public Librarian Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, to Henry DeTamble from Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, to Garth Nix’s Lirael, who is given a job as Assistant Librarian, which turns her whole life around. There were nods to Armbruster, the crotchety monk librarian from Walter Miller’s post-apocalyptic classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Jane from Mindy Klasky’s Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft, the buttoned-down Rupert Giles of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, and the librarian witch Ophelia in Shirley Damsgaard’s Ophelia & Abby mysteries. One reader raved about Lucien, the chief librarian in the Dreaming from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series (“He’s stylish, kind, ethical, and gracefully manages to succeed in exemplary professional practice in quite a difficult environment”), while over in the Science Fiction aisle Signals Officer Adele Mundy from David Drake’s Lt. Leary series was mentioned, as was Sandra Foster from Connie Willis’ delightful Bellwether.

                                       Do you sense a pattern emerging here?

Could it be that librarians’ staid image is now bursting the seams of naturalistic fiction and spilling forth into the realms of imagination and empires of wonder? Are librarians truly fantastic, or are we just indulging in librarian fantasies? And what does it say about our supposed serious demeanor when possibly the most revered fictional librarian of all time is an orangutan? You’ll have to read The Color of Magic, first title in Terry Pratchett’s hilarious and perennially popular Discworld series, to learn just how The Librarian at the Unseen University Library became an ape, Continue reading “Fantastic librarians, or librarian fantasies?”

Unleash your inner librarian!

image-of-library-stamp-courtesy-of-exlibrisWhat are the odds? The brand spanking new Library of Congress subject heading for “Public Libraries – California – anecdotes’” is getting quite a workout. In the past six months we have seen the publication of two humorous memoirs by librarians in the Los Angeles area: Don Borchert’s Free For All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library and Scott Douglass’s Quiet Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian. They’re both entertaining slices of the library life (or as I like to call it, “The Game”), and I recommend them both. You may have to get in line, as they are both proving to be very popular, and not just with library staff either! It seems a lot of you are interested in exploring your inner librarian. While you’re waiting to get a behind-the-scenes look at the glamorous, high-stakes world of public librarianship, let me introduce some of my favorite fictional librarians.

Meet Cassandra Mitchell, librarian of the small town of Sechelt, British Columbia. While perhaps less well-known than the prim and plucky Miss Helma Zukas just down the coast in Bellehaven, Miss Mitchell is smart, compassionate, resourceful, sexy, Continue reading “Unleash your inner librarian!”