“Francine loved the library and was anxious to worship the lady in charge. But the librarian had other things on her mind. She hated children anyhow.”
― Betty Smith,
Forgive my little detour from my regular Sneak Peek Saturday posts about my novel. I just had to get something off my chest.
Is it just me, or does it seem to be a prerequisite for many librarians to deeply loathe children? Now, notice I did not say ALL librarians. I have met some who are very sweet and loved my little boys, but I am not exaggerating when I say that these sweet librarians are few and far between.
Growing up, I thought it was just our small library that employed librarians who treated children with as much regard as they did discarded library books, but I was wrong. Since moving to Tennessee, I found two more cities with the exact same librarians. How is this possible?
Thankfully, it is completely different at this library now, but when I was a kid, the librarians had no more respect for me, as a child, than they did for a marred or torn book. Maybe I reminded them of those discarded books they hated. After all, I was always a bit rumpled, and maybe even had a tear in my jacket a time or two (get it? book jacket? Tear? My father would be so proud of my pun. Anyway…). They saw so many of us every day that I think they forgot we were real people. I think if I had opened my little hands like a book and laid them down on the librarian’s desk, they would have stamped one hand with the next week’s date and moved on, without batting an eye.
They forgot that with every rude comment and every sigh or roll of their eyes, they were slowly blotting out my love and excitement for reading.
Now thankfully, I had two wonderful parents who were teachers, and in all honesty never accepted the excuse that my love or excitement for reading was blotted out. They very effectively ‘un-blotted’ my excuses by telling me, “Exciting or not, you WILL read.”
But I think now of all of the little children in that neighborhood who did not have teacher-parents like mine. This was the 80s. We didn’t have Amazon or Kindle or anywhere else to get books. The libraries were it. They were tangible lands of imagination, adventure, and knowledge. The flight plans were already mapped out, the journey already paid for. These kids could almost feel the wind beginning to lift their wings, as they chose their destinations from the shelves. They could almost taste their freedom from the dysfunctional home they’re imprisoned in or the financial hardships that loom constantly overhead, but then they have to battle the gatekeepers. The first, second, third, and maybe even fourth time they may have felt the battle was worth it, because of the wonderful adventures ahead of them. But after being beaten down over and over by the gatekeepers, they began to wonder if it was worth the fight. And very soon, they decided it wasn’t.
I may sound like I’m being a bit melodramatic, but it’s all true!!!! Francine even dealt with it in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which means Betty Smith (the author) also dealt with it.
Anyway, I could handle it more, if it was just me they had disappointed. I’m a big girl. But I can’t handle it when the librarians are now disappointing my kids.
We have had the same kind of run-ins with two different city libraries here in Morristown and in Greeneville.
At one city library, the librarian couldn’t find my son’s card in the computer and after he had painstakingly chosen his books, she tells him (quite rudely) that he doesn’t exist and can’t check out any books today. She was holding his card that said ‘Carson,’ but could not even entertain the thought that it could be the system that was messed up. She also pointed out that we would have to take all the books back downstairs, because they belonged downstairs and they did not want them up at the main desk.
No matter what I suggested, her response grew louder and louder, “Carson does not exist.” Needless to say, Mama went a little postal, or is it bookish (since we were in the library). I finally informed her that, “Carson does exist, because he is standing right here next to me,” and I asked her to please not yell at me or my child (I gave her some more helpful hints, but I won’t bore you with all the details…)
When the dust settled, Carson did exist, we got a new card, since the old one wasn’t working (DUH!!), and Carson got his books. Carson was in tears and so was I, and I told him that when we returned these books (after ripping every page from their binding-just kidding, kind of) we will never enter that library door, again. Don’t think this was the only run-in. There had been many.
And just yesterday we were blessed by the second city’s happy, little, librarian gatekeepers. I was looking at a board book with Cole, when I saw Carson go up to the main desk. I heard him asking about the location of some truck books. I saw her look up some and write them down on a piece of paper. I didn’t hear everything that was said, but I did hear Carson’s last question. He had started to walk away to look for the books, but turned back and said, “Ma’am, how many books can I check out at one time?”
In a very snotty voice, the librarian said, “None, if you don’t have a card, here,” and then glared at him. I was shocked. What ever happened to common courtesy, and especially to a child, a child who has just called you “Ma’am” for goodness sakes! Could she not have said, “Sweetie, do you have a card with us?” Ugh!
Of course, I can never keep my mouth shut. I called across the silent fortress, trying to ward off the evil gatekeeper, “He does have a card, Ma’am.” All of the soon-to-be victims in the library turned to stare at me, because I had dared to speak in a normal voice. A curse upon all their heads, I say!
My point in all of this is to hopefully raise a little awareness. Libraries should be a wonderful place, not a museum for books (as my Mom pointed out). Librarians have an effect on the thousands of little guys and gals who dance through their doors each day. They are the link to the very book that may spark an idea, that flames into a deep desire, that burns into a passion, that causes a child to one day pursue a career in medicine, that now sends them flying in helicopters all over America, saving lives. Silly dream? Nope. My brother’s reality. You see, he had one of those rare gate keepers, and he is still living his adventure.
Now lest you think I spend most days in a fetal position, rocking and moaning because of the abuse of my gatekeepers, I’d like to point out that (after many years of rehab…just kidding) you can overcome and have your fire re-fueled for reading. But why take the chance? There’s too much at stake.
Let’s be advocates for our kids. Let’s make sure they always keep their love and excitement for reading, whether it’s with the librarians’ help or not.