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L is for Libraries

April 15, 2015

I’m running a day behind, but with National Library Week coming up, I couldn’t miss this opportunity.  Throughout most of my life, I’ve had life-shaping experiences in libraries.  When I started first grade, my best friend Elaine’s mom was our elementary librarian. I know I’ve written about Mrs. Comer (now Epperson) several times in the past. In fact, my other blog (discriminatingreader.com) is a tribute to her.  She lit a fire in me that has never been extinguished.  As I have mentioned before, she would give us books the way drug dealers get kids on the playground hooked on pot so they can entice them to stronger stuff.

She led us to The Wizard of Oz, Little Women, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Charlotte’s Web, and so many others.  I did my best to monopolize her time when we had a library day, asking her to help me find the next perfect book.  That’s why, in my third grade year book, she signed with the note, “To a very discriminating reader.”  When I asked her what that meant, she said, “Some day, little girl, you’ll understand.”

Not all the librarians had that same charm. One we called “Sweat Bee” for her frenzied, angry attacks when anyone acted out of line in her sanctuary certainly had no positive influence on my reading habits, but she didn’t squelch them either. (I do know she made herself a target for pranks.  Students asked her to sign their yearbook, which she did, not realizing it was actually the library copy. She was also notorious for putting strategically placed Bandaids over the models in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.)

Much of my summer time was spent in the local public library. I usually visited the Florence Public Library with one of my reading friends–Susan or Debbie.  I don’t remember a thing about the people who worked there, but if they were still in the same facility, I could walk right to the shelves where my favorite books and authors resided. During my junior high and even high school years, I would “read authors”: I’d find one book I loved and then read everything that author wrote.  I worked my way through all the books of Lloyd C. Douglas after I read The Robe, and then everything by Daphne DuMaurier after Rebecca.  I remember reading Exodus by Leon Uris, also a library book, and having to read into the wee hours because I couldn’t sleep if I stopped during some of the more gut-wrenching scenes in the concentration camps.

Over the years, I’ve had confirmed a notion shared by a favorite English teacher of mine:  There are two kinds of librarians. Those who love books–and readers–and those who want to protect books–from those pesky readers.  They are the kind who say “Shhhh!” a lot. Fortunately, in my teaching career, I’ve been exposed to so many of the first kind, the ones who are always asking for suggestions to add to the library collections and passing along books they love. How refreshing to find library personnel who actually read for pleasure.

Right now, I work on a campus that has the best library staff ever.  Students are made to feel welcome. These women (yes, mostly women) know their stuff!  If you can’t find it, they can. They love the challenge. They always seem to have time for a little book chat, and they enlist student workers with the same zeal and passion.

I hear the gloom and doom predictions that libraries will eventually turn into glorified computer terminals, but for now, I’m more than hopeful because I know the people who are still in charge.

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