Shelving. Checking in. Checking out. Alphabetizing. Searching. Finding just the right book for a wide-eyed second grader. People ask me why I still volunteer at the Beaver Creek Elementary Library when I no longer have a child who goes there. The easy answer is this: I love to be surrounded by books, and I love the order created by shelving them. I actually appreciate the look of books in order on the shelves. Each book has its own address, and when all the books are in place, it feels good. All the spines are lined up, just so. It’s satisfying to look for a book and find it, exactly where it is supposed to be. These are all things I love about working in the library.
But dig a little deeper and I just might tell you the real reason I work in the library.
When I was an elementary school student myself, thirty-odd years ago, one of my favorite days of the week was Library Day. Our library was on the top floor of the school, and I was always anxious to climb the painted cement stairs to pick out new books. I can still remember the feel of the construction-paper bookmark with its mimeographed seasonal picture...maybe a kite or a snowflake. There was something about going to the library that always gave me a sense of optimism, of excitement. In fact, I always believed that given enough time, I’d read every book on the shelves, starting with the letter A.
I can still remember the slight mustiness of the library, yet new books always smelled fresh when I opened them for the first time. Pulling on the drawer of library cards, but not pulling so hard that whole drawer would come crashing down. Listening quietly to a story while sitting cross-legged on the floor.
But the main reason I loved going to the library so much was because of our librarian. She taught us how to handle books so they would stay like new. She showed us the ways of Dewey Decimal so that we could find any bit of information we needed with the fun of a treasure hunt. She fostered in us a deep appreciation for books, not only for the information they contained, but also for the way they could open doors for us. In books, we could realize our potential. In books, we could learn everything, and that knowledge could take us anywhere.
Then one summer before school started, I learned that my librarian had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Suddenly I realized that she had had a family...a husband, daughters, a farm...even a motorcycle. How hard it was to picture her doing anything else except helping us in the library. How hard it was to believe that she wouldn’t be back in the fall. To this day, I have no recollection of who replaced her. She’s the only librarian I can remember.
And to this day, I handle books in a certain way because of her. I love research and thumbing through pages of picture books. I love the smell of the library. The stacks of colorful bookmarks. Covering a new book to keep it safe. Reading. Shelving. Checking in, checking out. Helping a reluctant student find a book that just might inspire her to read.
I really work in the library because my librarian awakened in me a lifelong love of learning. Library Day takes me back to those days long ago. It nurtures that tender, optimistic part of my soul. And from time to time, I still need that.