When I tell people that I am a librarian they will often confide to me that they wish they were librarians too because they love books so much. I get that. Most, if not all, librarians love books. But when it comes to why I became a librarian, that doesn’t feel like the whole story. When I was a kid I loved to read but not much more than your average person. I admit that I didn’t read a few assigned books here and there, that I pretty much stuck to the works of R.L. Stine (specifically Fear Street) for my “pleasure reading”, and that I haven’t read most of the classics that you think librarians should have read by now. Something I hear a lot is, “you haven’t read all of the Harry Potters?!?!” When I worked at the public library, other librarians and patrons would read circles around me and sometimes I would think I was a fraud. Why am I not excited about the latest dystopian trilogy?!? That is when I realized a very important distinction. I didn’t become a librarian because I love books, I became a librarian because I love libraries.
Lets go back to 1994, when my sixth grade self fell in love with the school library. The library at City Honors was one of the only quiet places in school. There were endless topics that I could explore, and once I figured out Dewey, I could find anything I wanted which is a very powerful thing for an 11 year old. That was the first time I privately thought that being a librarian would be pretty fun. You get first dibs on books and you get to spend your time making lists and organizing things! The next year my family moved out of state and the first thing I found was the public library, right around the corner from my house. I didn’t know anyone or anything about Indiana, but I knew were I could find books on how to draw monsters, how to start a garden, make scrambled eggs and play euchre (something I needed to learn if I wanted to fit in!). I moved a few times in middle school (a blessing and a curse during those years) and each time it was a comfort to have the public library as my touchstone.
I worked in libraries though high school and college and got into the big time after grad school. The New York Public Library. I was 22 and working at the Mott Haven Branch in the South Bronx. I worked at a few branches during my 9 years with NYPL and the thing I remember most is how many ways we were asked to help people when we sit on the reference desk. I helped find books, articles, and newspaper clippings. I helped people find a doctor, start their taxes, and fill out online resumes. I checked homework, gave train directions and planned after school activities. And no, I didn’t love it everyday. There are times you just want some quiet at your desk. But that didn’t last too long, because the moment I saw someone light up after they downloaded their first ebook or set up their first email account is the moment I remember why I wanted to be a librarian. It wasn’t only the books, it was remembering how much the library meant to me when I was growing up. It was knowing that the library was doing the same for all the kids who came to visit me after school, looking for a calm in the storm and a book that inspires them.
Today I feel like I am back where I started, running a small school library for elementary and middle school students. Sometimes I see a sixth grader rush in to grab a new book and it is like I am right back at City Honors in Buffalo, sunk in a chair, flipping though some crazy book called “Cheerleader Danger. The library doesn’t judge, it just says “welcome.”