everyone should have a library to love

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Torill Mortensen writes this lovely ode to a childhood librarian:

I think everybody should have a library close by, a library to love.

However, much as I love the librarians at the library here in Volda, not many come up against the librarian of my childhood.


It was the first hint that people valued the reading of books, and the reading of books in a certain order. It was also the first time an adult had encouraged me to read a book since I had learned to read. And it was the first time I understood the power of librarians. Since then I have worshipped them.

I wonder if every academic has one of these larger-than-life librarian stories in their childhood. For me, it was the librarian at the Eastham Public Library in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The picture on their web site shows the front of the library, which used to be the sum total of the place--a small, weathered Cape Cod building. In recent years it's been expanded, but they've retained the original front building.

Every summer when I was a kid we'd spend the last two weeks of August vacationing in Eastham. And as strong as my memories of beach and sun and salt spray are my memories of that little library, and of the grandmotherly librarian who--mirabile dictu!--remembered me every year when I returned. I'd walk in the front door, she'd smile in recognition, and immediately steer me to new books in my favorite series (I loved series books. From Cherry Ames, Nancy Drew, and The Happy Hollisters to The Prydain Chronicles and The Dark is Rising. I read so quickly, even as a child, that series books allowed me to prolong the narrative in a much more satisfying way than stand-alone novels.)

That's not why I went to library school, but it's definitely the archetypal image that I hold in my head about libraries and librarians. And I worry that my kids won't have that experience, as libraries move inexorably online, and virtual reference and Amazon recommendations replace the warmth and sense of belonging that the librarian in Eastham gave me every summer.

3 TrackBacks

Epiphany from Caveat Lector on November 12, 2003 10:19 PM

Liz laments the potential loss of library as place, and asks for stories about favorite libraries and favorite librarians. Contrarian that I am, good stories about libraries form precisely no part at all of my reasons for going to library school. (I do... Read More

Libraries and Librarians from this Public Address 3.0 on November 13, 2003 3:15 PM

Libraries and Librarians My memory was jogged by Liz Lawley’s Everyone should have a library to love. I ran down... Read More

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... Read More


Guess I'm not the only one with quick eyes... :-) That would explain why I have nearly the entire collection of the DragonLance saga from when I was a little younger, am just finishing Robert Jordan's most recent book from The Wheel of Time series and have been looking for something else to get into in the past few months. Come to think of it I read the Chronicles of Narnia as well.

What's funny is I always hated being forced to read something for school. I detested that with such a heated passion, and I think it was because I couldn't read at my own pace and enjoy the book for what it was. I had to chop the book up into sections, wait for the class to catch up because otherwise it would ruin the lesson in some inexplicable way, find answers to what I felt were pointless questions - I hated all of that. I despised book reports too. But I still love to read! :-)

The biggest librarian in my life was my mom, and so it's difficult to think of a librarian story. But "a library close by, a library to love," as Torill writes -- yes. It's just up the street in this tiny town, a beautiful old Greek revival building, with its own cat and a small staff that you'll know by name and who'll remember you. For me, a kind of place to remember my mom, though she never saw it, and a place from which to enjoy simply carrying home a couple old Joyce Carol Oates novels as antidotes to the steady diet of JSTOR and ERIC.

But in that sense, Liz, perhaps one need not make Frollo's rueful remark that ceci tuera cela. As much as we might believe in the rhetoric of flows of information not pinned down by space or time, location will always have a value beyond that of mere convenience. As your post, and Torill's, so clearly show.

I've always loved libraries, but their keepers puzzle me sometimes.

When I was in 3rd Grade (lets say 1959), I discovered Edgar Allen Poe and innocently checked one of his works out of the Salem, Indiana, public library.

Little did I know the stir that action caused. By the time I brought it back and tried to exchange it for more Poe, Poe had vanished!

I looked everywhere. Finally, I asked. They'd moved all Poe's books to the high shelves behind the checkout desk - which had become their adults-only section.

This *really* made me wonder what I was missing, and I had a talk about it with my parents. Dad was furious, and marched down to the library with me to find out which Poe I wanted to read next.

We checked out about eight books, and I quickly read everything they had. Granted, there's a certain warp factor in Edgar Allen, but I am sure television had a much more negative influence on my upbringing than Poe.

That's my library story.




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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on November 12, 2003 10:28 AM.

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