My home library, the Black Earth Library reminds me a bit of “The Little Engine that Could”
Although small in size, (the smallest library in Dane County, Wisconsin) my library is a beacon for literacy in our small town to those of all ages. During the months of closure due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I would drive by the darkened building, always thinking about the books I wanted to read or had ordered on line but could not access. I was reminded of those times, places and people that did not have the opportunity or freedom of information that allows us access to this magnificent resource.
In a community that has seen the disappearance of its grocery store, its pharmacy, its medical clinic, its senior center and a major restaurant, the library stands alone as a place where our community can gather, attend information and learning sessions for all ages and access books, movies and data in formats useful to all.
When the lights came on again recently, I felt as if the beacon once more shone in Black Earth.
I, for one, am better for it!
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.
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”.