In case you’ve been under a rock, librarians are under siege.
Writers know the value of librarians. Not just for our livelihood but also how they affect our readers, our children, our very fabric of society.
As Phillip Pullman says ”I still remember the first library ticket I ever had…I was thrilled. All those books, and I was allowed to borrow whichever I wanted! And I remember some of the first books I borrowed and fell in love with…what a gift to give a child, this chance to discover that you can love a book and the characters in it, you can become their friend and share their adventures in your own imagination. And the secrecy of it! The blessed privacy! No-one else can get in the way, no-one else can invade it, no-one else even knows what’s going on in that wonderful space that opens up between the reader and the book. That open democratic space full of thrills, full of excitement and fear, full of astonishment, where your own emotions and ideas are given back to you clarified, magnified, purified, valued. You’re a citizen of that great democratic space that opens up between you and the book. And the body that gave it to you is the public library. Can I possibly convey the magnitude of that gift?”
My friend and colleague, Liz Scanlon, initiated a week of Librairian Love at her blog. I am chiming in with a bit of my own…
Where I grew up we didn’t have a library. We had an Atheneum. It was big dark and scary. I never went in it. We had lots of books at home. I’d read those. When I got college, I was, shall we say?, a little intimidated by research. I did it but I was definitely behind the curve.
Fast forward a zillion years. I am a mom. I go to the Austin Public Library with my wee daughter. We bring home stack of books. I read her all the Caldecotts. After she goes to bed, I read all the Newberys. With every trip to the library, I notice how my daughter expands her selection of books and books on tapes. This environment becomes like second home. Books are her friends. Librarians, the keeper of these books, become her guides. By the time she goes off to Zilker Elementary, she looks forward to the library days and story time with one of the most extraordinary librarians I’ve ever met:
Ms. Jackie Kraal.
Jackie is a woman who knows 400 students by name and what they like to read. She loves and respects each of them and she expects the same in return. Especially when it comes to taking care of books. I watched every child come into her library with confidence. I watched her coach them on the computer, find books they needed and point them to new books they might not choose. I knew that every child would leave Zilker with a good feeling about libraries and an aptitude for reading as well as research. My child certainly did.
When my first picture book was about to be published, I turned to a librarian for help. Jeannette Larson. She was in charge of childrens services for the Austin Public Library at the time. I asked her for a few suggestions in putting together my presentations for my book. It was amazing. In ten minutes, I had songs, coloring templates and a hundred tips about reading to wiggly 3-5 year olds. Every time I go out to talk to kids, I think of Jeannette and silently send her my thanks again and again and again.
My friend Julie Lake works as a clerk at the high school library in Austin. Over the past year, I have witnessed Julie’s dedication to helping kids find the perfect book that will turn them on to reading. Her boss sets this kind of tone and it is her job that may be cut. Says Julie, “She basically transformed the library from a place kids didn’t go because the staff didn’t like kids ‘messing up the books’ to a place where students hang out. Currently, we get a thousand kids in a day. We spend a lot of time talking with the kids about books. Got one of the guys on the wrestling team who likes graphic novels to check out Maus. Asked another boy how he liked The Knife of Never Letting Go and he said, ‘It made me feel every emotion from A to Z.’ Yes, a 16-year-old boy actually said this…”
Finally, the Writer’s League of Texas has a fantastic program called Project WISE(Writers In Schools for Enrichment). It is coordinated through librarians and funded by the City of Austin and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Because of this program, writers are paid to visit schools. It is a win-win for writer, librarian and child. I thank each and every librarian who has invited me to their school through this program.