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