Libraries and Librarians

Libraries and Librarians

My memory was jogged by Liz Lawley’s Everyone should have a library to love. I ran down the list of memorable libraries in my head, and tried hard to remember any librarians that had made an impression.

I remember the Norris School library (my elementary school). I remember it because it was a shack with a creaky floor and not much in the way of books. I remember constantly asking if there were any new books and getting the answer “no.” I had to resort to reading encyclopedias and dictionaries by the time I reached the sixth grade; I had read anything else there that interested me. My mother would take me to Oildale, to visit an old brick building that smelled musty. I remember the librarians there saying “you’ll have to put some of these back, you are only allowed six books�”

I remember sitting and reading Einstein’s special theory of relativity there. It was a skinny little book, and I figured I could read it quickly so that I might check out a more weighty tome. I remember being shocked by its lucidity; it was really easy for even a seventh grader to understand. I moved a little while after that, and the nearest library branch to me was within riding distance on my bicycle (about ten miles). I discovered the miracle of periodicals there. I spent hours going through all the massive volumes of Life magazine.

This library was a new building, with a glowing bright lobby. It was the rendezvous spot for my friends, since we lived miles apart. I remember sitting there and reading periodicals mostly, since I couldn’t carry many books on my bicycle. When I took up photography, they had a contest I entered. I won 50$ for a picture of my cat, which helped me finance my first camera. I don’t remember ever speaking to a librarian there, except when I picked up the check.

My high school library was a treasure; it had a separate building to house the periodicals. I worked my way through Scientific American there. I got to know a few librarians there, among them Gladys Castle. I was probably one of the few kids that actually had several librarians sign his yearbook. I spent as much time with them as I did my teachers, as I learned most of my research skills in high school.

I took a class in research at Bakersfield College with a now deceased librarian, Fred Jacobs. I didn’t learn much about research methods, but I learned a lot about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes from him before I dropped out.

Currently, I have several favorite librarians who assist me in teaching research methods to my writing students and sometime suggest twists for my own research. But as a child, libraries were generally more connected with a sense of place rather than people. I now think of librarians as professionals rather than gatekeepers. Perhaps it’s the span of the years, but I’m not so sure. The profession has changed a lot, but among lower level librarians I still get the sense that I’m wasting their precious time that I had as a child.

But research librarians, well, that’s a different story altogether. Looking back on this post, I realize it makes me sound like a pretentious geek. I read a lot. I always have. What I remember most are the books and magazines, not the places or people. I suppose that is kind of sad.

1 thought on “Libraries and Librarians”

  1. librarians I have known

    A couple of people have been blogging about librarians and libraries they remember. I’ve been puzzling on this today. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in libraries over the course of my life. If I’m not mistaken, my mother…

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