Anne here, and today I'm talking about my love of libraries and librarians. So many old-fashioned movies and novels used to portray librarians as wispy, dowdy repressed creatures. That or grumpy people who go about shushing people endlessly. Such silly clichés. I always preferred the ones where the librarian revealed themselves to have brains and pizzaz and spines of steel. To me librarians have always been slightly magical.
Books and reading open our minds to a variety of new worlds, whether fiction, fantasy or fact. I often say that libraries kept me 'fed' when I was a child. My parents owned plenty of books, but because we moved so often, they often remained in boxes and were inaccessible to me. Though I was an outdoors active kid during the day, in the evenings I was a total book worm. I pretty much read everything I could get my hands on, and a huge part of that process was thanks to the librarians who worked in the various libraries in the many towns I lived in through my childhood.
Usually, when we moved to a new town — mostly smallish country towns — the first thing I did was walk or ride my bike all around town to learn what was there, and high on my list was the local public library. And in each of those the attitude of the librarians was what made the difference in whether it was a friendly space or not. I'm glad to say most of them were very friendly spaces.
I owe so much to librarians. Once they realized what a voracious reader I was, they often introduced me to new authors and a wider range of books. "Have you tried this?" was often the start of what I would now call a "glom" of this author or that.
It was a librarian who introduced me to writers like Mary Stewart, Catherine Gaskin, Henry Treece, Rosemary Sutcliffe, PG Wodehouse, Agatha Christie and many more. And though it wasn't a librarian who introduced me to Georgette Heyer, she was indirectly responsible, because I wasn't yet officially old enough to borrow from the adult section of the library, but she didn't stop me from borrowing it.
Then there were various school librarians. At one primary school I attended, another student and I used to borrow a book every afternoon, and it became something of a competition between us, that the books had to be roughly the same size and we had to finish it overnight. The school librarian, Mr Tresize, used to test our knowledge of each book before he'd let us borrow another, and that turned us both into swift and efficient readers, a skill that really helped with later studies.
I soon learned to consult librarians when searching for research materials, all the way through school, and on to university, and later with my writing. It was a librarian in my local library who helped me do a search for a long out-of-print rare book, and explained to me that I could do an inter-library loan and have the book sent from the State Library to the local library for me to consult. That was hugely influential in my writing of my second book, Tallie's Knight.
In really rural areas, there was the bookmobile, and I remember waiting eagerly for it to arrive every week. The mobile librarians soon knew me and would take the trouble to bring me books they thought I'd enjoy.
In other parts of the world, librarians went to huge personal efforts to get books to people in far flung regions, even to delivering books by horseback or burro. Here's an article about the "book women of Kentucky" who would saddle up, usually at dawn, to pick their way along snowy hillsides and through muddy creeks with a simple goal: to deliver reading material to Kentucky’s isolated mountain communities.
There are similar stories in other places. Librarians have long been heroic in their determination to bring books to isolated people. For example there's Luis Soriano who created the amazing donkey libraries of Colombia.
Some of the most vulnerable groups in society rely on public libraries for access to a vast range of services and resources. During the recent pandemic, public library staff in Australia (and no doubt elsewhere) embraced the challenge. Home services expanded and deliveries of books were made to the housebound and elderly. Special provisions were made for homeless people so they could continue to use a library PC during lockdowns. Educational programs were delivered online through live streaming and published recordings. Children’s storytime became a virtual experience and families at home were able to tune in. Online events extended to author talks, workshops, tech sessions and other programs to help people develop their knowledge and stay connected.
Speaking of keeping people connected, there is a wonderful story here, written by Eva Ibbotson, about discovering a library and a librarian when she was a child, and came to England as a refugee from Nazi Germany. Don't skip this story — it's beautiful.
Throughout history and all over the world librarians have gone the extra mile to give people from all walks of life access to books and the worlds and knowledge within them. They have saved rare and worthy books from wanton destruction by so-called "authorities", they have nurtured young minds and older. They are the hub of our communities. In some places, libraries and librarians are coming under attack. We need to defend and support them.
Librarians of the world, I salute you!
Now, wenchly readers, what about you? Do you have a story about a librarian or a library experience to share? Do you still visit your local library? Do you still have one? Misguided "authorities" often think they're a waste of money. How wrong they are.
Share your library or librarian stories.