THE LIBRARIES TRANSFORM CAMPAIGN
Designed to increase public awareness of the value, impact and services provided by libraries and library professionals, the Libraries Transform campaign will ensure there is one clear, energetic voice for our profession. Showcasing the transformative nature of today’s libraries and elevating the critical role libraries play in the digital age.
The library is a part of even my earliest memories. I clearly remember my parents telling me to say “thank you” to the librarians after they would hand me my books and, if I was lucky, my free sticker. Through the library’s encouragement, I became a lifelong avid reader, and quickly developed an aspiration to one day have a book of my own on a library shelf. That love of books has stuck with me, and now, nineteen years after I first started coming to the library, I’ve declared my college major in Creative Writing.
Of course, libraries are so much more than a collection of books. I started working at the Black Earth Public Library when I was 14, and continued the job all throughout high school and beyond, and it’s been a privilege to become friends with the wonderful people who make the library world go round. I feel as though I have a library of memories myself; of quiet days shelving books, of hectic ones working with children on various craft projects, and of the nights of games with friends made possible by generous librarians staying long after their shifts were finished, just to give us all a place to be together. That, more than anything, is what I want to make clear: that librarians are the best species of people. They will drive one home from work if need be, bring birthday gifts and Christmas gifts and Halloween gifts and regular-day gifts if it’s been too long since the last holiday. They’ll be ready with a story to tell or advice to give or food to hand out. Without librarians, a collection of books is just that--a stack of books. It takes a librarian to make those books into a library, and I’m honored to be able to say that I’ve worked among them for a few great years of my life.
In the TV show Parks and Recreation, the employees of the Parks and Rec department have a feud with their mortal enemy, the much-hated library. Librarians are made out to be demonic, soulless entities, the libraries themselves pits of festering evil. And it’s hilarious. Why? Because the running gag is an inversion, one which rests on the universal knowledge that librarians are the best people in the world. We can laugh when we see them labeled as uncaring because we are comfortable in the knowledge that that is the opposite of reality.
At one point, a character calls librarians “punk-ass book jockeys”, and for some reason this name stuck with me, because even though the joke was making fun of the assumption that librarians are a kindly but sleepy people, the truth is that librarians are pretty badass. They’re guardians of books and the people who love them. They’re fearless, boldly finding new ways to prove that in this changing world libraries are not only relevant but indispensable. That’s why, at a recent t-shirt tie-dye event at my local library, I made my shirt with a little extra care. It’s covered with sunbursts of pink and yellow and blue sharpie bled around by rubbing alcohol, the ingenious idea of--you guessed it--a librarian.
But my favorite part? Spelled proudly across the front in bold, black lettering is a proud proclamation: “Book Jockey”.
The green sticker on the edge of this book says, "Serendipity Collection." I have no idea why this sticker is on this book. But I do know that today was hard. I had lots of questions about moving to Wisconsin. About leaving Iowa. About leaving family and friends. Why are we here? I also know that this book had a mile long wait list when I last looked to check it out a month ago. Today I was going to take my kids to the children's museum. Turns out it's closed on Monday.
So we went to the library. I walked in and this was staring at me on the shelf. It felt like a hug from the universe that I needed right then. Serendipitous. I don't have all the answers about why we moved, but I do know that I was supposed to walk into the Middleton, WI library today. So there's that.
I remember sitting in pre-calc class my sophomore year, it was the end of the school year so we were finishing up the unit and preparing for exams. One of my friends in the row behind me, a boy named Jack who was a year above me, leaned forward and said, “Would you be interested in working at the library?” I said yes, not knowing that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I love working at the library, it’s really great. I get to help so many people. One time an elderly lady came in and asked for my help on the computers. Turns out she had won some grocery coupons but could not figure out how to redeem them. Slowly but surely, I helped explain to her how to use her email to get to the website, and showed her how to pick what coupons she wanted. She was so beyond grateful, that was one of my favorite days at the library.
I think that younger generations today don’t understand how great libraries are. I had a friend who wanted to read a series, so he went out and bought all the books; did he not understand he could check them out from the library for free? I’m always delighted when my friends ask me to order them a book, or ask if they can participate in a program. In a perfect world, everyone would understand how incredible libraries really are.
When I was a freshman we moved from Brooklyn to a farm south of Dayton, and I think probably the first time I came into town I came and got my library card. I had had a card in Brooklyn – they don’t have a library anymore in Brooklyn – and I read every Bobbsey Twin book that was ever written. That’s where I began.
The library here was the old building, in Library Park, up those stairs, those rickety stairs. It wasn’t open every day, but I know it was Wednesday nights and I think Saturday nights. Possibly some daytime hours, but being from the farm you could really only generally come in Wednesday night or Saturday night. When I got a teaching license and taught in Attica. The librarian and I worked out a plan that I could bring students in every two weeks so they could check out books – because at the rural school there wasn’t a very big library. We didn’t have that many kids either! The school clerk and I packed ‘em in two cars and came and got books.
And then later on in the years I moved into town and was appointed to the library board, was Treasurer of the library, and at that time that meant that I paid the bills, including the payroll and so on. But it was always fun. On December 31st I’d come in and knock on wood, and every year it balanced to a penny. I think I skipped all the way home, just so happy. I helped organize the first Friends of the Library. We had a quilt raffle and we tried to have some activities, but you know, as things go in cycles, people moved away, and got older, and it kind of fizzled out. But now it’s reborn again. I worked here for 10 years after I retired from teaching.
And now I volunteer at the Senior Center, which for a while there was just across the hallway. That’s actually how I got started. The director there said one morning, “We need a Meals on Wheels driver. Can you work it?” And I didn’t work in the library Wednesday mornings. It’s surprising, amazing how many connections you form. One of the current library board members, when her daughter was little she saw me on the street. And it was a shock that I wasn’t in the library, so she yelled, “There’s Library Bob!” That’s how I got my nickname. My feelings about the library…warm and fuzzy. And it’s exciting to think what you might find there. It’s a friendly place. I look forward to coming to the library.
I often work with a cracker-jack reference librarian to get unusual materials through Outer-Library Loan. It is interesting to see where they come from. I have received books from Alaska - twice!
I guess you could say I founded the writers group. I’ve always enjoyed the book discussion group, and one day I asked if there’s ever been one for writers, and that was the beginning. I’m working on a memoir. That’s been rather healing for me. Some of it…well, I have an interesting story. I have five children – one biological and four adopted, one of whom was extremely traumatized, and it changed my whole life, changed all our lives. So part of it is about that. It’s been healing, and it’s been empowering, because I think, “Do I really share this or not?” As I get more comfortable with the group, I share more – even outside of the group. I’m braver about saying, well, this is how it is. The group gave me that. When you just put something out there – like if you’d write it on Facebook – you get some response, maybe, or no response. But if you’re in the room with people, and they’ve had two whole weeks to read it, then we talk about it. And it’s good to hear everyone’s comments. We just get to know each other better. That’s why we’re so friendly! We’ve shared so much!
A few years ago, the city of Stoughton wanted to cut Library funding. A number of people came to a City Council meeting and spoke. One woman shared this moving account.
"I’ve struggled with depression all my adult life. A few years ago, after a suicide attempt, I ended up in the psych-ward at one of the Madison hospitals. One of the kinds of therapy they had is called occupational therapy. One of the things I did for occupational therapy was to make necklaces by putting beads on strings.
As it turned out, I really liked doing that, so after I went home, I went to buy materials so I could make necklaces at home. However, there were so many choices and types of materials, I was overwhelmed.
My husband suggested I go to the library and find out more about this new hobby I wanted to engage in. I did, and after reading through several books, I knew how to get started.
As the months went by, thanks to books I continued to borrow from the library, I learned the proper ways to make not only necklaces, but earrings and bracelets. I learned what tools I would need and how to use them. I also learned the proper ways to use findings (the clasps and connections) and how to use colors and shapes for my designs. I even learned to do wire wrapping and how to make my own polymer clay beads.
What began as therapy, became first a hobby and, thanks to the availability of library books, is now a business for me. I’ve been selling my creations in stores in Wisconsin and Minnesota. If it wasn’t for the books available at the Stoughton Public Library, I’d still just be putting beads on a string!"
It started off as a way for me to read the 100 greatest books of all time, it became how Addison and I found reading together. Working mostly 2 jobs and raising a family did not afford me much time to read, but I always knew I wanted to read the greatest novels. My aunt was a teacher and principal, and always encouraged me to read as much as possible. I was always more interested in playing baseball. My wife and daughter had started Addison with the basics of Dr Suess, and the Hungry Caterpillar. He seemed to really from a very early age always wanting to be “lost” in a book. He was always picking up whatever book we had a read it with a passion. So one day I went to the library in Verona and got a card. I started checking out books for myself, and taking Addison with me, he would go over to the children’s section and look at what book cover interested him. As time passed, he would choose his own books, and I would check them out on my library card. Then he decided he wanted to at the book check-out station, and scan the books himself. That grew to him telling me it would be “smarter”, and easier on me if he had his own card. Do they let kids have their own cards?
So Addison decided it was time to ask the lady at the desk what he needed to do to get his own card. So now armed with his own card he was free to roam the children’s section on his own, or so he thought with Grandpa hovering with a watchful eye nearby. Now, he reads so intently and so much it has become a Herculean effort to keep up with the latest series he is on. It started with Tom Swift Jr series that was almost impossible to find. The series of 57 books would only have been possible with the extra efforts of Mark Cullen, the man at the reference desk in Verona. With his help, I have attempted to stay up with the latest Rick Riordan, Chris Grabenstein, JK Rowling, and other author and title that catches Addison interest! As I now have become at least somewhat perficient on placing holds on books that Addison wants thru the LINKcat system, I have to put “on hold” more and more to stay ahead. It really has become a challenge to stay ahead of his ability to rad almost non-stop. What a great way to spend time with your grandson, getting lost together in the joy of reading, and knowing that he will always be just fine as long as he has a book to read, and a quiet place to read it at. What a nice thing to know as a grandparent that at only 9 years old, Addison knows what it took me fifty years to figure out!