When I was in high school I had an incredible Latin teacher. Liz was intensely dedicated to her students and the art of language. She taught the class in Latin. There were 2 grades: A or F. We were all required to take the National Latin Exam every year (We all always medaled. Seriously. All of us. EVERY time.). We also had summer homework. We would be given a text to translate from Latin to English each summer at our leisure. I loved it. I hated the pressure during the school year but when Summer came I could devote all my focus to the class I loved the most and just read, think and write.
So far, that’s what grad school has been like. Well, sort of. I mean, there’s still a lot of stress from work, home ownership, new marriage, dog, cat, book and a few other monkey wrenches the Universe decided were appropriate for just this moment… But seriously, I have finally reached a point where I’m studying only the thing I’m obsessed with. Can you imagine!? I think about libraries. All. The. Time. But NOW! Now I get to think about libraries and do extra projects about libraries and (here comes the best part…) challenge myself when it comes to what I think I know about libraries.
I’m a weirdo in basically all aspects of my life. I’ve never quite fit into any of the molds I tried on. Snowboarder with no patience for the cool factor. Beat poet enthusiast who can’t stand Ginsberg. Seamstress interested in making intentionally tacky or inappropriate costumes resulting in social discomfort for my friends. Punk Rock lover who does not like Sid Vicious. Loudest librarian in the building interested in adding more loud people who will do weird things with me (Wool felting for cat lovers! ). These are not historically popular niches.I like being a weirdo. I’ve gotten comfortable living on the edges of all these colliding identities and library land has actually started encouraging people to work the way I work. I can’t wait to see what cool new versions of weird this experience is going to pull out of me.
I’ve been doing homework for the iSchool for weeks now. Prepping for an intense week long trip where I get to study for 7 days with peers. It feels a lot like when I was 9 and we moved to Maine – “Will they like me? Will I be too weird? Will I make friends?” It also feels like starting a new job – “Will standing up for what I believe in make people angry at me? Will I get to do what I want?” and somewhere sprinkled on the fuzzy edges it feels like falling in love – “I can’t sleep! I want to look nice!”
So I’m finally here and ready. It’s 7:45am and I’ve got on the special outfit I picked out and I tried to make my crazy hair cooperate and it’s my first day of school. I hope that I don’t cry (for any reason) and I hope that I don’t get a tattoo. Even more than that I hope my ideas are good enough. That all this weird has culminated into the kind of person this community will think can make a difference.
Some of these are funny but true and others are simply heartbreaking and true. I present them in no particular order:
1. Take Care of Your Hair
Women here take care of their hair. They get it cut, they dye it, they curl it and do it before going places. There’s an importance placed on looks that I will never really be concerned with but there’s something about their hair, man. It’s like putting on a jaunty hat without actually wearing one. I’ve come to realize that even if I’m never going to be the kind of lady who wears makeup and heels daily I would like to look like I’ve got my shit together. So getting a good haircut seemed the natural way to go. I have a do that is progressively getting weirder as I work with my new stylist (Right now I’m somewhere between Ramona Flowers and Carol Channing…) I really like this part of adulthood and hope I can make my hair a natural extension of my style (A struggle that anyone with curly hair will relate to).
2. IHOP is a Young Woman’s Game
Food down here is not like in the north. Well, maybe a little like growing up in Downeast Maine, where everything seemed to be fried and no one counted calories or even servings most of the time. But fast food is a totally different game. As a kid we never really ate fast food. We would have a kind of biannual outing to the big city of Calais, Maine where we would run errands and then stop at Burger King for junk food. I developed great eating habits and blah, blah, blah, but it’s always been a source of entertainment to friends all the different kinds of fast food I’ve NEVER tried. I’ve made a kind of junk food bucket list that has expanded exponentially since moving to the South. A few months ago Karl and I ventured out for errands and i saw the blue glowing beacon of IHOP in the distance. I made him stop, erupting into a fit of giggles that lasted throughout our meal and until we got into the car. Then I thought I would die. I developed a food baby that would not budge. I was so uncomfortable and not even a fart would pass. This feeling lasted well into the night and I awoke the next day with a new found appreciation for water, fresh vegetables and life in general. I shall not darken that glowing blue doorway again.
3. People Talk About Race Here a Lot
Race is still very much identified as a divide here. That’s super obvious to most people and I even thought I knew that before I moved here but living inside those distinctions as a white woman was something I sort of didn’t see coming. I am perceived in a very new way and I don’t know what to think of that yet. Maybe I never will.
4. We Aren’t Listening to One Another
I sort of have these very sad glimpses of the public I serve from time to time. It’s happened at each library I’ve worked at where a divisive issue is in our face (rich & poor, educated & uneducated, any color & any other color, really any us vs. them you can think of) but all we think about is our own side of the story. If all the marching and anger from places like Ferguson is to mean anything we need to take action where it matters most- by talking to one another and voting to make change. Otherwise protests will only continue to open eyes (to what they choose to see), not doors.
5. I’m Not Normal
What a crazy, privileged, fortunate year I’ve had. Between writing the book, getting married, getting my first paid speaking gig where my library career began, moving to one of the greatest libraries in the world and then getting a promotion I have been insanely fortunate. (More on all of that later, I swear…) It’s beginning to dawn on me that while I am crazy lucky to have built a career almost entirely upon play I also put a LOT of work into it and owe a lot of my success to being me. Stubborn, competitive, risky old me.
I hear a lot about folks who claim they were “raised in the library”. This always seems super cool to me since I definitely was not raised in my library.
I have some VERY vivid memories about the libraries of my youth. I can smell the smells, remember the way the weight of the book(s!) felt in my little hands as I walked out the door and into the sunshine. There are even some cool residual details from after library trips that are burned in my brain, as if there was pixie dust from those buildings that permeated the space time continuum and an event’s mere proximity to a library visit also made it special.
On my first trip to a Public Library I checked out Roald Dahl’s The Witches from a library in New Jersey. I went home and climbed a cherry tree in full bloom in our front yard and read until I was scared I’d finish the book and have the story end.
When we moved to Maine I quietly stalked the shelves of our small Library and found a small blue tome, the kind that had it’s title written in gold on its spine. (The kind of book you can call a freakin’ tome and mean it!) Inside there were little poems about mermaids and shipwrecks, cresting waves and the lonely pitch of ships in the fog. I would sneak back to that shelf for “my book” many times. As an adult I’m putting off calling and being “that patron” who asks for “the small blue book in the 811’s with a nautical focus”. I shudder at both the reality that I must do this or I will simply die and the empathy I will feel for the person on the other end of that phone call. Especially when I’ll ask in vain if they know “what happened to it?” when it will surely be long removed from the collection…
A lot of us have stories like these and I love meeting other librarians and hearing their renditions of this story but I never got to say I was “raised by my library”. It’s silly to be envious of this claim but sometimes I am. Like I’m not core enough for my job because I didn’t have that immersion. Is it possible that this is on par with Jewish Guilt or Catholic Guilt? If so, I’m devoted to the art form…
However, right now I’m sitting in an airport on the way to my wedding. I’ve spent the day attending a training for women on leadership because of the generosity of our Friends. I was given gifts and hugs all day by staff and then driven to the airport by a patron. On the way here the most fabulous 12 year old ever told me I was the coolest person in the world when I described what my wedding would be like. Then he asked me to plan his wedding when the time comes.
I’ve been gifted with a handmade Christmas wreath from a Kindergarten class, a Robert Frost quote translated into gorgeous oil pastel art from a senator’s husband, a 5 pack (FIVE!) of custom made cd’s when I left VT from a teenager, the consideration, time, love and conversation from the entire staff of my first library after heartbreak, lessons in foreign languages from kids whose language was the only constant in their lives as fleeing refugees, the volunteer efforts from friends as I ventured into unchartered Library territory and made them stay up all night with dozens of teenagers, and now with the freedom to explore the boundaries of my profession to depths I never dreamed possible… and all while they ask for info on my wedding registry…
I may not have been raised by my library as a child but as a human and an adult I have been raised by my libraries. And I am so lucky.