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L is for Librarian

As librarians go, I’m fairly unique. You see, most librarians don’t set out to become librarians. It’s usually a mid-life career choice or something that someone sort of backs into, if you will. But not me. I’ve known I wanted to be a librarian since I was in the 4th grade.

This is a photograph of the branch library I grew up visiting. I went with my mom once a week and we picked out books together. I remember practicing writing my name so I could get my own card. I was so proud the day I marched up to the Circulation Desk and wrote my name on my first library card. I also remember the first time I was allowed to browse in the Children’s Department on my own while my mom looked for her books in the adult section. I felt like such a grown up! There was a whole world to explore in that tiny branch library and I wanted to soak up every part of it.

The branch librarian was Miss Keane and her assistant was Mrs. Berger and they were a fantastic combination. Miss Keane was friendly and fun and Mrs. Berger was rather abrupt and gruff. Sort of like good cop/bad cop for librarians. Anyway, without meaning for it to happen, Miss Keane became my inspiration. This one day I was at the library and I asked her a question. I don’t remember what the question was but I clearly remember that Miss Keane knew the answer. And I said to her, “Miss Keane, you’re so smart. You must know everything because you always know the answers to my questions.” And she said, “Oh no, Carole. I’m not especially smart, I’m a librarian. And, while librarians don’t know all the answers, they do know where to find all the answers.” Ah ha. Light bulb moment. I knew in that instant that I wanted to be a librarian and I wanted to spend my life helping people find the answers to their questions.

Fast forward another 7 years and I wound up working with Miss Keane at this branch library. I told her the story of why I wanted to be a librarian and she was utterly surprised to know that she had been my inspiration. She was also very, very proud of having nurtured a budding librarian. I worked at this library, with Miss Keane and Mrs. Berger, until I went off to college.

I have worked in a library of one sort or another for 25 years and I have devoted my professional life to being a librarian. I have done everything from shelving books to secretarial work to checking out books for library patrons. Of course, the reality of what I do now is somewhat different than my childhood dream. As a Library Director I spend most of my time on administrative functions like staffing and budgets. But, every now and again I get the chance to work with the public. And there’s really nothing better than being at the Circulation Desk or the Reference Desk and succesfully answering someone’s question. It reminds me of why I became a librarian in the first place. And it reminds me of Miss Keane and Mrs. Berger, too.

This Post Has 50 Comments

  1. Oh, I have such great memories of going to the library when I was a kid! And now I try to bring my own kids every week. How great that you actually became a librarian, after planning on it all those years. 😉

  2. I think that is awesome! I go to our publich library every week and fill up a bag of books for my kids. Growing up with an English teacher for a mom, and then becoming one myself? You know…..I LOVE BOOKS!

    Okay I just erased the rest of my post and am e-mailing it instead….

  3. Mother would take us to the library every week to get 10 books each so she could just count to make sure they were all there. I still remember the school libraries we had, too. I guess they no longer exist. Libraries are a place of wonderful memories from my childhood all the way through today.

  4. When I was working as a corporate librarian I always said: I’m an expert at making other people experts.

  5. Oh that is a lovely thing! I didn’t really figure it out until maybe the last couple years of college, when I met an academic librarian and realized there was a degree you could get for that. It was a lightbulb moment for me too, because up until then I had been a serious library user, and had even worked in libraries for quite a while. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before. Duh! It’s probably why all my elementary school reports said things like “Lacks direction.”

    Anyway, I am not working now due to baby and minimal local options, and many days I really really miss it. Keep sharing your stories!

  6. Being a librarian was a total joy for me, and I have a special place in my heart for all us library types. I’m taking the kids today!

  7. I would never learned to enjoy reading without my local librarian, Mrs. H. She also knew all the answers. She found me three books to read when I was in fifth grade and turned me ON to reading. I will never forget her. Librarians are great people!!

  8. I didn’t become a librarian, but I did work in the Children’s room of the library for 3 years. And I have similar memories of the library as a child. We walked to the library once a week (only one car and employed dad used it), and were allowed to check out 3 books. Typically, I read all three within the first two days and then re-read them repeatedly until the next week arrived and it was finally time to get three new ones.

  9. What a wonderful story!
    I come from a family of avid readers. My mother always took us to the library and let us check out whatever wanted to try to read. When my mom retired a couple of years ago, she took a part-time job at the local library in her small town. I don’t think she’s ever been happier!

  10. *That* is a wondeful tribute. Yay for Miss Keane!

    Henry & Eleanor will be getting their first library cards this fall, when our renovated library opens. We’re already practicing writing names.

  11. I think you have such a wonderful career! I never learned about being a librarian in great depth, but I did work at my college library for two years and it was a great experience. I loved just working at the circulation desk, helping other students use it as well. That was a sweeet job.

  12. Great story! Living overseas our only library was the school library and our librarian’s name was Mrs Hick who had a distinct NC southern twang. I remember her reading “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach” to us.

    My 8 yo is excitedly awaiting our summer reading program in our local library when he’ll get his very own library card.

  13. I too am one of those rare librarians who decided early, although I was in high school. My sophomore year we got a new librarian who was young and cool, and I was totally inspired. Of course, it took a few years after I graduated from college to get to grad school, but I worked in a variety of libraries along the way. Weirdly enough, one of my colleagues now was a grad school friend of that high school librarian who inspired me. If you had told me in high school that I would end up a health sciences librarian, I would have thought you were crazy, but I love my job!

  14. That’s such a great “L”. I remember getting my first library card and how proud I felt when my girls got theirs. I credit the fabulous children’s room at the little library I grew up in for the best career choice I ever made. Becoming a librarian is the best choice I ever made!

  15. I love hearing stories about people who are working in a career they love. I’m still floundering about in college not knowing what I am possibly going to do and reading that it is possible to figure it out and like what you do…well, it just makes me feel a little better about my future. 🙂

  16. I have the same library memories as you do! But before I got my first library card (with the little metal tab on it) at a real library we lived in a very small town, and the “library” was the downstairs of a very old meeting house that was also the town hall and other such type things, with a cemetery attached.

    I still remember the musty smells of that place, and I loved the sound of the old librarian slowly opening a book and stamping a date in the back. I wanted to be a librarian just so I could use in inkpad. 🙂

  17. Aw, NICE story! I loved going to the library when I was little, too. And I spent my entire high school career as a library helper. And yet, ironically, I went another direction . . . I decided to create my OWN library instead of using other people’s . . . (grin)

  18. I love this post!! I loved the library as a kid, and I still do. In my “dream home” I have one of those huge library rooms with the ladder up to the second floor (like in My Fair Lady) and (believe it or not) my very own card catalogue. Don’t ask me why – I loved the card catalogue.

  19. As Maryse noted, not only are you unusual in that you’re always wanted to be a librarian, you’re unusual (and fortunate) in that you knew what you wanted to do from a young age and have successfully made that your career. I changed my mind all the time.

    When you were a little girl, you must have been Mrs. Keane’s favorite customer!

  20. The summer reading program at my childhood library introduced me to the wonderful card catalog. I’ve been intrigued by numbers ever sense. I can open a library book and just smell my summers as a child. What is that library book smell? I’ve always wondered. Do they sell it in a can to be sprayed on books when they come in? Maybe I don’t want to know what it is come to think of it.

  21. Great post, I have fond and wonderful memories of my first trip to the library with my grandmother. The realisation that I could take a whole stack of books home with us, was one of the first great wonders of the world for me.

  22. What a great story. I envy people who are so clear and certain about their goals and their passions. (Mine didn’t work out the way I’d hoped, and I still haven’t figured out what else I might want to be when I grow up, even though I’m now 33.)

  23. What Liz said. A place where there are thousands and thousands of books and you can sit and read as much as you want (well, until closing time anyway) and actually take some of them home with you? Sounds like heaven to me, staffed by library angels, of course.

    (Remind me sometime to tell you the story of my husband the libfly.)

  24. Thanks for sharing your story! I wanted to be a librarian when I was in 4th grade, too. Maybe I needed a Miss Keane in my life?!

  25. What a wonderful “L”! You really have an inspiring story. Isn’t it amazing how someone can be so important in your life and they have no idea. I bet you do that for people too.

  26. Perfect!! This is such a great story of you. I used to make a bee-line for the biography section at the school library, and worked at the public library for a while in high school (used to get lost in the stacks shelving books… usually in the biography section… imagine that). I think that many people who serve as inspiration to others never have a clue — and it’s so great that you were able to share that with yours and to work with her!

  27. You’re lucky that your childhood librarian was nice – mine was an ogre. Still is. She can still make me shake in my boots with one look if I turn up with a late book…which is more often than not ;o)

    Great post, C!

  28. What a cute story — I can just picture a little Carole practising writing her name to get her own card! I guess that we should never forget that the things that we do and say are so impressionable on others, especially kids.

    Thanks for the story.

  29. That is a neat feeling to answer a question that is important to a college student, (I am an academic librarian) or to take someone to a book they haven’t been able to find. Sometimes I even impress them knowing where the cell biology and botany books are from memory. (Not so easy now we are shifting.) I don’t have a strong memory of why I wanted to be a librarian, but I do remember my sweet elementary school librarian fondly, and I spent lots of time at the local public library.

  30. I loved going to the library growing up. We couldn’t afford to buy very many books, so I would’ve been SOL without the library. Unfortunately, I had a tendency to turn in books late and rang up such a large fine, I had my priveleges revoked until I could pay it. I wasn’t able to, so I would spend all day at the library reading (during the summer, of course), then hide the book I was reading (so nobody could check it out–very irresponsible, I know), and come back the next day. Finally, my father donated a whole bunch of used books in lieu of paying my fines….

  31. What a great story! I’ve always loved the library – my favorite one is the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center – I could spend hours and hours there listening to recordings and flipping through scores!

  32. Walking into a library gives me the warm fuzzies. I am a closet librarian wannabee. Hmm “mid-life choice”? I might be there. Beautiful story about Miss Keane.

  33. What a wonderful story. It brings back many memories of going to the library as a child. And it makes me sad that my local library isn’t better. I have a hard time finding books I want to check out. The local university has a wonderful library, but I can’t check books out from there any more.

  34. How wonderful to know what you want to do so clearly, and have it still be something so deeply satisfying when you grow up. I’m thirty*cough* and am only now thinking I may have discovered what I want to be when I grow up.

  35. That is so cool! One of my “young mother” jobs
    from 1987-1991 was working as a half-time school library aide (essentially the librarian, since there was nobody else but me!). I loved the variety of tasks, always something needing to be done, and getting to work with children. I even researched finishing my degree in that area, but was informed that the job market was dwindling, so went on elsewhere. Thanks for the charming tale.

  36. I remember getting my first library card too! I was five and it was a very special day and in the summers when I was in high school I used to ride my bike to the library (and the penny candy store) and spend all day browsing the books and sitting out on park benches reading and eating my candy.

    Libraries are very special places, and I bet that you’ve made the libraries you’ve worked at feel just that way with your enthusiasm and big sunshiney smile!

  37. What a great memory! I’m also a librarian, and I also knew by the age of 10 that I wanted to be a librarian. Thanks for the story.

  38. I could still find my way around the library in my hometown with my eyes closed … and can remember the path I walked to get there clear as day. I love books and libraries and finding out about things.

    How lucky you are to be able to do it for a living.

  39. here here! I love your librarian story. while my first professional career, I didn’t decide to become a librarian until after my BA…Now I can’t imagine doing anything else!

  40. I loved reading this post! Wonder why? I am like you – I wanted to be a librarian from a very early age. My mom said it started when I got my first library card! I have moved more towards the archives and museum work in recent years (maybe my degree in archaeology led to that?) but libraries are still a very important place for me… and as you know, the MLS is really a passport into any of these professions 😉

  41. I’m so glad I found your blog…I love hearing about your librarian experiences. I hope to become a librarian someday. Thanks for writing!

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