An Ode to Librarians

library1If I could write a song and sing it I would. But I can’t. So words are going to have to do. I want to thank librarians for the difference they’ve made in my life… and it’s huge.

A magical place right from the beginning

When I was a little girl — no more than three or four — my mother used to take me to the library, where I’d pick out lots of picture books. Of course I usually picked out the same books every week. As I recall, it was Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel or something like that, as well as Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. Even now, some 60 years later, I still remember those two magical books. But more importantly the library became a place that I associated with fun, pretty images, and safety.

Five books and I was in heaven…

When I first learned to ride a two wheeler, the first place I went was the library. I had baskets on the back of my bike, and I was able to check out as many as five books at a time. That was heaven. I’d come home, park my bike and tear into the first of my books. Libraries became almost like a grocery store of books, where I could find anything I wanted, a treasure trove of discovery, delight and escapism.

Discovering adult books early

I quickly outgrew children’s books and the children’s librarian, being a very intelligent woman, handed me over to the adult librarians. They allowed me to check out books like DickensA Tale of Two Cities, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, which I read when I was about 10 years old. Being so young, I didn’t ‘get’ the subtleties and deeper meaning of the books, and I’ve gone back to reread them since. But it was an indication of the librarians’ trust in me that they allowed me to read adult books at such an early age.

Serious teen research

I used the library as a teenager, mostly for research on the papers I needed to write. The highlight came when, after my senior year in high school, I did research at the Library of Congress for my history teacher, who was writing a thesis on Harold Ickes. That was an experience: she had her own desk or “carrel” deep in the stacks of the library, and it was a real treat to go up there every once in a while, sit, and pretend I was writing my own thesis.

The writer’s best friend

I continued my love affair with libraries when I began to write in earnest. I still use the libraries as my go-to place whenever I need to do research. I’ll check out the book from the library, read it from cover to cover, take notes and return it with a thank you.

New technologies

library2The most exciting research came when I was writing Havana Lost, and, once again, my library was in the middle of it. I was researching Cuban intervention in Angola, and discovered (through Twitter, actually) a UK fellow who’d written his PhD on the subject. His thesis had been turned into a book, but—alas, it was over $300 on Amazon—and I couldn’t afford to buy it. Instead, I called my local library. Three days later, I held the book in my hands and read it from cover to cover.

A big ‘thank you’ to all librarians

I’ve saved the best for last. I haven’t told you about all the wonderful librarians I’ve met over the years. And I want to because they are some of my favorite people. They’re intelligent, articulate, and they understand what I want, sometimes before I know it myself.

Most of all, they are really fun. Have you ever been out drinking with a bunch of librarians? If not, you’re in for a treat! They’re some of the most entertaining people I’ve ever known.

To Librarians: You have been a part of my life at every stage of my life. I couldn’t do what I do without you, and I am grateful you exist.

And if you’re not a librarian, go to your library and make friends with one.  You won’t be sorry.

What’s your library story?

Do you have fond memories of libraries? Do you still haunt them? What was the first book that inspired your imagination when you were little? I’m a sucker for a good story.