Monday, November 17, 2014

Librarians Saved My Life, and now, damn it, I am going to try to save theirs

My love affair with librarians goes way back.

The romance began in my childhood, when a librarian saved my life. Our first date was a lovely one. She was young and beautiful and kind. She saw me--a sad shy little girl -- scoping out the shelves in the children's section of the New Britain Public Library in New Britain, Connecticut, and she struck up a conversation. One thing led to another and she was selecting books for me, even going so far as to place books in my hands. 

After a few weeks, she knew what I liked. Sweet quiet stories. Mysteries, but nothing too dark. Fantasies. I think she guessed something about me: I wanted--needed--to escape.

Our break-up was tearful. One day I came into the children's section and she was waiting for me, as always, with a stack of books. It was her last day, she said.

(Me, age 10 or so, at the library)
I cried.

She took me out to a nearby restaurant. Things would be okay, she said. I would be okay. Books would always be my friends.

From that point on, I've loved libraries.  The buildings themselvesthe books that fill those buildings. And I've never gotten over my love for librarians.

They still help me choose books. When my kids were little, librarians helped them. The librarian at their elementary school knew them by name, of course, and she knew what kinds of books they liked. My son was a big non-fiction guy. My daughter liked mysteries.

As a writer of children's books, I spend a lot of time in libraries. I enjoy chatting with the librarians in the children's section of my local library. I am friends with the librarian (just retired) from my kids' high school and with several of the librarians at other high schools in the area.

The librarians in Ohio invited me to speak at their annual conference. They've brought me to their schools and book clubs. They put my book on their Battle of the Books lists. Librarians at the New Britain Public library, the same library where my love affair began, invited me back to give a talk. They searched for the kind librarian of my childhood by looking up old employment records. They wrote me emails with the subject line "The Case of the Missing Librarian."

They did not find her, but they told me they will keep looking.

A few librarians in Florida put my book Thin Space on the list of books teens should read, and I went to their conference. Those librarians set me up in a gorgeous hotel in Orlando and treated me like I was a rock star.

I still cry around librarians. I know what a powerful and potentially life changing effect they can have on individual children. I know that some people don't recognize what librarians do. Librarians never toot their own horns.

That librarian in my children's school --the one who knew their names and what books they liked to read-- she was let go. The short-sighted well-meaning principal decided that her position wasn't important. A better use of tax dollars would be a reading specialist to analyze reading test scores. Maybe a parent volunteer could sit in the library and check out books and straighten the shelves.

I visited a school in Florida with 3600 students and one librarian. She was lovely but frazzled, telling me that when she teaches lessons on research or technology, she must visit 75 classes. But she felt lucky. She has a job. There are entire districts in Florida with no librarians at all.

A few weeks ago, when I spoke at the Ohio state librarians' conference, I noticed a stark difference between the number of attendees from the year before. The president told me that they've lost many people. Many districts no longer reimburse librarians for conference expenses. Anyone who was there, most likely paid for the attendance themselves.

They were upbeat though. Talking about their love of books and of students. Sharing information about how best to reach and help and support their kids, as they call them. I gave a talk about my book and my evolution as a writer and I was shocked to see that I had made some of the librarians cry.

Last week I bumped into several of librarians I know. They were anxious and upset.

The state board of education in Ohio is seriously considering passing a law that would make it easy for districts to cut the arts, music, guidance, PE, and librarians from the schools. At the last meeting, several school board members walked out in protest of the proposed law.

I never get political on this blog, but today I am going to.

If you live in Ohio, please take a moment to show support for school librarians. Write a thank you note to one (or all) of the following board members who care about school libraries and librarians and understand the true insidious ramifications of the proposed law--or at the very least, seem to be open to supporting the librarian profession:

Stephanie Dodd     
Sarah Fowler         
Kathleen McGervey
Ann Jacobs            
Michael Collins    
Deborah Cain        
A.J. Wagner          
Mary Rose Oakar 

Here's a link to one of the articles in The Columbus Dispatch about the crisis.

If you're on Twitter, you can support and follow along --using the hashtag #Ohio5of8

Thank you.

One of these schools is next to Hogwarts. One is next to a power plant.
What do they both have in common?
A dedicated, professional librarian 

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