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.