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Monday, March 19, 2012

Why Libraries and Librarians Matter

Why Librarians and Libraries Matter
 I want to be a librarian.

I've wanted to be a librarian for a very long time. I've done research on what education you need to be a librarian, read magazines geared towards librarian readers, and I've nibbled up every snap of information I can get on librarianship. Of course, I know that simply doing research isn't enough. I've prepared myself for volunteer work at the library in the future, connected with librarians and just tried to understand the job and its community.

But the truth is, it's not really a common thing for teens and kids to want to be. Most of my classmates want to be sports players, vets, rich people, etc. A teacher in fifth grade asked my class what we wanted to be when we grew up. We had to write a short paragraph and draw a picture of ourselves as an adult in the job position we chose.

Again, my classmates said they wanted to be sports players, presidents, judges, lawyers, writers (the girl who said that is my friend, of course) and all kinds of normal, typical things that made sense for a bunch of ten-and-eleven year olds.

I stood up and said, "I want to be a librarian." Most of the kids stared at me like I was an idiot. A couple said things like, "Why would you want to be one?" My teacher shushed them but I could tell she was surprised too.

And the same kind of attitude -- thinking libraries and librarians are stupid and old-fashioned -- seems to have carried on into adults.

That is not to say that every adult hates libraries or librarians, or thinks that they're stupid and/or old fashioned. But there are some that do, and there seems to be an image in popular culture of librarians. These librarians are old people, usually ladies, with thick glasses and sweaters who constantly tell you to be quiet.

But that is not how librarians are.

This should seem to be an obvious statement. Obviously this image is a stereotype, etc etc. But the image continues.

I'll counter this stereotype by telling you about librarians I know. I have known three librarians who shaped my life. Lori, Carol, and Amy. Lori was my elementary school librarian and the first ever librarian I really knew. She was very funny and kind, and an amazing book talker. Carol was the kids/teen librarian at the public library by my house. She led a mother-daughter book club that my mother and I participated in for almost four years until I grew out of the program. She was a smart lady who was fantastic at leading book discussions and picked great books. Amy is the assistant librarian with a focus on teens at the library I now patronage. She's a very funny lady with a great mind for what teens like.

And these librarians -- three amazing ladies -- are just three of many, thousands and thousands, of librarians around the world. Librarians are diverse; they're male and female, young and old, with every race represented.

But is the job easy? Of course not, no job is completely easy. Librarians deal with bad patrons and computer problems and plenty of other issues. There's the issue of e-books and technology and the fact that libraries might become obsolete someday. The issue that popular culture doesn't think highly of librarians and they are stereotyped. There are problems with budgets and not being able to buy enough books and the issue of books being stolen and the fact that funding for libraries is low.

But despite problems, libraries really can impact people. They help kids learn to read, impacting the babies and toddlers directly by storytime, and helping the parents with programs on literacy. They give older kids fun programs – gross out ones and fun ones and book related ones, work their butts off in the summertime for summer reading. They help kids find books to read, whether the books be for pleasure or a project, and make sure to give them good stories to enjoy.

Frankly, I love librarians.

I could go on forever about why I like them and why I care. But at the same time, these descriptions of what librarians do are empty in a kind of way. So I’ll tell you a true story. It may be a bit movie-like, and perhaps dramatic, but I think it tells a librarian story very well.

This story involves Lori, the first librarian I talked about. You’ll remember that she was the librarian at my public elementary school and was a fantastic book talker and storyteller.

Also, note—“we” and “us” mentions are describing my elementary school classes as a whole.

In elementary school, every time we visited the library as a class we would sit on a big round circle rug first. Lori would sit in a chair across from us and read us a book,  and when we got a little older, she would talk to us about other topics, such as online safety and plagiarizing.

When we were younger, we’d sit and beg her to read more and more. We liked reading, yes, but we liked listening to her more.

Lori was a clever lady. She knew we’d listen to her, so she carefully book talked books as soon as she finished reading. We paid attention, captivated, and guess what? Those books always got checked out. And guess what? They were great books.

As we got older, we started to read more. We read more thanks to what: her awesome book talks. She gave us a love of reading slowly. And you know what? By the time we were in fifth grade we didn’t want to listen to a story. We wanted to get up and check out a book or two (or three, thanks to our school libraries’ lovely policy of allowing older kids to check out up to three titles).

And what I love the most about this story is not how amazing our librarian was. It’s how this affected so many people – twenty six kids, and guess what, every single one of them read.

And this was just the classes I participated in; think of the other three or four classes, all of which went to the library and also gained a “thirst for books”.

Librarians can make an impact. And they do make an impact.

Personally, I think they’re underappreciated.

And I’ve known many, many great librarians both online and in real life.

And I’m proud to say that someday, yes, I want to be a librarian. 

1 comment:

  1. I love that you want to be a librarian. I also sent a copy to the elementary school librarian you cited. She will love hearing how she touched your life and those of many others. Bravo to all librarians; past, present, and future!