2014 was an incredible year for me as a writer. My book was published and…people liked it. My hopes were of course that readers would connect with Gabi, that they’d read about her meth addict father or her comfort eating and say, “Hey! I’m not the only one!” That readers would see themselves in the book. But I also realized that there are a lot of damn good books out there and that Gabi would be fighting for attention and that it would probably just be my family and friends who bought the book out of support. And I had been okay with that because at least I could take “Publish book” off my bucket list.
Then the librarians came.
I mean it hasn’t just been the librarians who have been supportive, but they have been pretty damn loud. In a world where people think that technology threatens print books, or that people don’t read, or (gasp and shiver) that libraries are obsolete, I find the opposite to be true. Libraries and librarians (real people) are necessary. In schools and in cities. And I don’t say this just because I am a former elementary school library tech.
Libraries are not just circulation desks. They are living, breathing things which promote literacy and democracy. Yeah, I went there. Libraries are for everyone. As a kid from the other side of the tracks (literally) in Riverside, California, who didn’t have a lot, whose parents collected cans to pay bills, who wore the same pants to school three days a week, who got the free basket at Christmas, I remember the library as a safe place for me. One place, like the classroom, that didn’t cost a dime and gave me so much. My mom would walk us, my brother and me, down to the library, which was like a mile or so away from our house, and I’d come back with an armful of books. Obviously, I didn’t think it through because I had to walk back with all those books and my mom would have to help and then get upset because I had taken more books than I could carry but in the end it all worked out for the best because we got the home and I got to read and eventually wrote a book. But at the time, she was a bit annoyed. Anyway, the library. The children’s section was on the second floor (it is a lot bigger now than it was then) and there were a few librarians, whose name I never learned. There was an older, heavy set white woman, and a youngish/middle aged Asian man (I recently saw him, still at the library, we’ve both aged wonderfully. I teared up thinking about all the wonderful memories he didn’t know he had been a part of-sounds a little creepy now that I think about it.), who were always ready to help. “Do you have a book on Charlie Chaplin?” (I don’t know why there was a period in my childhood that I was obsessed with Charlie Chaplin.) “Do you have a book on Bonnie and Clyde?” “Not in the children’s section. Why are you interested in books about so much violence?” “Do you have Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself?” I must’ve read that book twenty times. Each incessant question was met by patience and a willingness to share their love of reading with me. To ask why I wanted to learn about things. To push me to think. Now, I am not saying there weren’t grumpy librarians. I mean, I would purposefully seek out those I knew weren’t grouchy on my visits, because the grouchy librarian (like the bad teacher) exists and is a little scary. But overall, the library brought joy into my life, and a lot had to do with the librarians; people who have dedicated their life to the propagation of literacy, to the free distribution and access of information-for everyone.
When I began working in the elementary school library, I thought about what librarians had meant to me and what I wanted to mean to the children I would serve. I thought about my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Mary Osti, who believed so much in having a library in the schools that when the district cut budgets she, and the rest of the PTA moms, served the kids without pay; taking shifts in keeping the library open and checking books in and out. Believed so much that when there was no actually room for the library, she stacked books on cart and went classroom to classroom making sure students had access. I was, of course, a library helper. These were pre-computer days. The days of the card catalog. And I loved it. How could I not? I had power. I remembered this when I began working; what it meant to have that kind of power, the kind that changes lives. I just hope that I did for some kid what those librarians did for me.
But I ramble. What I meant to do in this post was to say thank you to the librarians and library techs who’ve sent me emails and Tweets, and who’ve put Gabi in the hands of patrons, and who didn’t get tired of all my questions as a kid. Muchisimisimas gracias.
Check out some cool info about libraries: