Frigates, Coursers and Librarians

May 17th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 6 comments

 

I didn’t recognize any of the people working at my community’s library today. I still get surprised when that happens. Despite being aware of the policy changes that were instituted a while back, I just cannot get accustomed to not knowing the staff.

 

Over the years, our library system has announced a number of “new and improved” policies. Sometimes, the change is a good one, as when card catalogues became computerized. Other times, I have to wonder why anyone wanted to tinker with a successfully functioning system.

 

When our county declared that librarians were going to rotate through the branches, rather than be assigned permanent positions, there was an attempt to explain how beneficial this would be. Both librarians and patrons would be better served. I didn’t get it.

 

To my shame and regret, I didn’t plan a protest rally. I didn’t even express my dismay to the local newspaper’s editor or to the “Friends of the Library” fundraising group. That reflected a busy life, not a lack of concern.

 

For years, my children and I spent hours each week at the library. We attended programs and special classes, but most of all we roamed the shelves and checked out books. Over time, the librarians learned of each of my children’s unique interests and abilities. Frequently, they recommended books, assisted them in research projects and in general, became part of their educational support network. The library was our greatest resource for homeschooling material and it was also friendly to our budget.

 

Had there been no easy access to a library my children would have still been surrounded by books. They would have still had adults in their lives encouraging them to read and pointing them in the direction of worthwhile material. Not all children are so fortunate.

 

The public library system offers the gift of books to all. Through the generations librarians have been the interface to those books for scores of immigrants or neglected children.

 

Today, I can reserve books online, check myself out using a computer, and never interact with a human being. If I do have a question, anyone working behind the desk can answer it. I can even type it in my computer and never exchange a word with a person. That’s fine for me, though I certainly prefer to see familiar faces and share greetings. But for a child for whom the library serves as a haven and a doorway into a better future, the computer cannot replace a living person expressing interest in his life. A strange face each time she visits means there is no one to notice that she has read a particularly challenging book or prefers non-fiction to fiction. Libraries should exude welcome and comfort, not impersonal bureaucracy.

 

As Emily Dickinson said:

 

There is no frigate like a book

To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

 

Not only books, but librarians as well, are capable of being chariots. I have no idea what the government officials who instituted the rotating librarian policy were thinking. It would be lovely if they would think again.

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6 comments

Ed Adams says:

Your post brought back wonderful memories of my small hometown public library. Growing up in rural eastern Oregon in the 1960s, I was one of those rare, underprivileged kids whose parents didn’t believe in having a TV in our home. My greatest source of entertainment was friends and books. I remember during the summer I would read hundreds of books. Since four was the maximum number of books I could check out at any one time, I would always make sure I went to the library Friday afternoon before it closed to get me four books for the weekend. Four books of course were never enough so I would be at the library waiting when it opened again Monday morning. After awhile, the librarian, Mrs. Dunn, told me that since I had shown how responsible I was in always returning the books on time, on Fridays, she would allow me to take home 8 books. Mrs. Dunn taught me two very important things with that small act. One, she taught me that responsible behavior could be rewarded and secondly, she taught me a lifelong love of books and learning.
Although none of my kids share my passion for reading, I still enjoy taking them to the public library.
Thank you for bringing back a wonderful memory to me and for helping me realize that the role of the public library in today’s society is still very important.

Ed Adams says:

Your post brought back wonderful memories of my small hometown public library. Growing up in rural eastern Oregon in the 1960s, I was one of those rare, underprivileged kids whose parents didn’t believe in having a TV in our home. My greatest source of entertainment was friends and books. I remember during the summer I would read hundreds of books. Since four was the maximum number of books I could check out at any one time, I would always make sure I went to the library Friday afternoon before it closed to get me four books for the weekend. Four books of course were never enough so I would be at the library waiting when it opened again Monday morning. After awhile, the librarian, Mrs. Dunn, told me that since I had shown how responsible I was in always returning the books on time, on Fridays, she would allow me to take home 8 books. Mrs. Dunn taught me two very important things with that small act. One, she taught me that responsible behavior could be rewarded and secondly, she taught me a lifelong love of books and learning.
Although none of my kids share my passion for reading, I still enjoy taking them to the public library.
Thank you for bringing back a wonderful memory to me and for helping me realize that the role of the public library in today’s society is still very important.

Susan Lapin says:

You brought back memories to me as well, Ed. We had a limit of six books when I was a child and my books never lasted through the weekend. Thanks for writing.

Susan Lapin says:

You brought back memories to me as well, Ed. We had a limit of six books when I was a child and my books never lasted through the weekend. Thanks for writing.

Gidon says:

Yes, a truly beautiful ode to libraries and especially librarians.
“It would be lovely if they would think again.”
LOL, but maybe “government officials ‘thinking'” is what gets us into messes in the first place!

Gidon says:

Yes, a truly beautiful ode to libraries and especially librarians.
“It would be lovely if they would think again.”
LOL, but maybe “government officials ‘thinking'” is what gets us into messes in the first place!

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