Like many I fell for a Facebook trend recently which consisted of posting your senior photo in support of this year’s graduating class. I don’t actually have my senior photo anymore because it was a few years ago, but I do have my old yearbook, so I pulled it out and took a pic of my old photo. And posted it with some encouraging words for this year’s seniors who are basically missing out on a pretty fun part of their lives while we take our corona break.
But I started thinking. Was that post more about me than it was the seniors? Probably. I mean, I looked good at 18. We all looked better than we do now, let’s be honest. I got a lot of nice comments on the photo, too, and those are always good. But how in the hell was it supposed to make today’s seniors feel better?
So, as an act of contrition, I wrote a poem, and not just any poem, either. An Italian sonnet, which is widely regarded as a difficult form. Here goes:
I am a librarian. No joke. A lot of people might not know that about me, but I did receive my Masters in Library and Information Sciences from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Today being the first day of School Library Month, I thought I’d take a moment to reminisce about the effect libraries in general had on me in my formative years.
My first memory of a library is not a very pleasant one. Our school library was a dark area right in the middle of the building with no windows. On the best of days, it wasn’t a welcoming space. I was probably about seven or eight on this particular day. I had an assignment to learn how to use the encyclopedias (back in the days before Google). I can’t remember what my assignment was, but I do remember noticing a little cluster of my classmates in a corner with an encyclopedia. Curious, I joined them.
Someone had found a picture of a statue. A naked man statue. Not much bigger than postage stamp size and in grainy black-and-white, it nonetheless held our third-grade attention like no teacher ever could. Until the blue-haired librarian found us.
I kid you not in the least, she had blue hair. And when she was angry–which she unfortunately often was–it all seemed to stand on end. That day was the angriest I ever saw her. She snatched the encyclopedia away from our unworthy childish hands. “That is art!” she snapped. (Or something close to those words.) “It is not something to be giggled about!”
Being a timid child, I fled to the darkest corner of the library, my cheeks burning, certain I was going to be found and led to the principal’s office, probably even be accused of being the ringleader pervert.
Nothing of the sort happened, of course, and I’ve learned to think of my blue-haired elementary school librarian as a sort of benefactor. She wasn’t the one who convinced me to go into library science, but she helped form my philosophy that a library needs to be a friendly place–for children, especially. No, the people who convinced me to go into library science were my “Ladies of the Library”. I discovered them when I was about twelve years old and started volunteering at the Transylvania County Public Library. Beautiful, happy souls who loved their work, these ladies took me under their collective wing and nurtured my love of books and reading.
It seems fitting to me that it was at the public library–the library my mother took me on weekly trips to from the time I learned to read, the first library I ever got a “library card” at–that I first fell in love with the idea of the preservation of knowledge. As for my ladies of the library, I remember them all with a great deal of fondness. I still have the little bookmark they gave me when I graduated from high school. They made the library a friendly place for me, and I thank them for it.
But the path that led me to becoming a librarian started there in my elementary school library. In the dark, foreboding corner of a dusty space filled with moldering books and guarded by a fierce, blue-haired custodian. God bless her.
So tell me…what is your first memory of a library?