Oh, the Librarian is a Person in your Neighborhood...
A few weeks ago, I asked commenters for their opinions on libraries: why they liked---or didn't like—to visit their local library, and about libraries in general.
I have to admit, now, that I had an ulterior motive for this question: I was getting ready for a job interview, and one of the requirements was that I prepare a short presentation on this very subject: what makes a library "the place you want to be"? I know what I think about what makes people like a library, but then I'm a librarian! It was really helpful to hear from folks on the other side of the reference desk, so thank you, Catherine, Susan, Charlotte, and Cheryl, for unknowingly helping me with my interview.
Here's what I learned from you about what people (well, four people) want from a library:
Friendly service. Librarians you can connect with as people and as book-lovers are important! Cheryl remembers "times when I've gone into the library and had great discussions about children's books with the librarian," and Susan praises the librarian who helped her daughter find "a book that won an award" (which request would warm any children's librarian's heart).
Conversely, unfriendly service—or even the lack of knowledgeable, specialized librarians—can be a library repellent. Susan laments the absence of an identifiable children's librarian at her neighborhood branch, and Cheryl tells of being turned off the library by a staff member's disapproving response to a few overdue books when she was having a hard time in the first place. Catherine's comment that she was sometimes intimidated by the NYC libraries reminded me of something it can be hard for those of us who work in libraries to remember: navigating a library can be an daunting experience, even for someone who is comfortable with the printed word to the point of being a writer and editor herself.
Convenience. In some way or other, this was important to everyone who commented. Cheryl lauded her library system's city-wide hold system. Catherine likes being able to bike to the library and pick up a stack of books and DVDs. And Charlotte even picked her house because it was only four blocks from the library!
Community. Another thing that sometimes goes forgotten or underplayed is the idea of the library as a place in an of itself: aside from all the books and the recommendations and the computers and the reserves, sometimes people value what Charlotte astutely calls "the 'getting out of the house' aspect of the library," especially those who might be feeling lonely and isolated, as Charlotte was just after her son was born. Catherine hit on this also when she talked about liking the "idea" of the many community programs that her library sponsors, even if her family isn't able to attend them. I know what she means, I think—just the fact that those events are being held helps make the library feel like a community place.
All this discussion of libraries made me think (naturally) about my favorite kids' books on the subject. I'm working on a more comprehensive list, having not found one online yet, but for now I'll just recommend two relatively new titles:
The Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen, about a lion who visits the library and soon becomes indispensable, is a great book to read aloud to a group or with just one or two kids. I love how both the story and Kevin Hawkes' charming and subtle acrylic-and-pencil illustrations depict a library that's both timeless and contemporary: there's a cozy feeling to the space, and the librarian, Miss Merriwether, feels strongly about the rules that keep the library a safe and quiet place, but at the same time it's a place that has room for computers (seen on reference and checkout desks) and exceptions to the rules, as well as for lions.
The library in Carla Morris's The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians is a much more freewheeling place. The three librarians who are always behind the reference desk whenever little Melvin visits—illustrator Brad Sneed makes their distinctive personalities crystal-clear—are abrim with enthusiasm as well as know-how: whenever Melvin has an information need—from bug identification to spelling bee prep—they leap right in with call numbers, website recommendations, and even suggestions for the archival storage of baseball cards. Small wonder that Melvin grows up with a love of libraries, so much so that…well, if you have a child with an enthusiasm for libraries, this book just might spur him or her towards *ahem* an exciting and rewarding future.
May 25, 2008