If librarians were honest…

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about libraries and librarians…

I love libraries. My love affair began when I was an 8-year-old and a teacher reported to my parents that I wasn’t reading enough. My parents, who valued school above all else, took the remark as seriously as though a doctor had told them I had leukemia. That same week, they marched me to the bookmobile, a dusty pink bus that parked itself three blocks from our home every Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.

Visiting the bookmobile soon became the highlight of my youthful week. I favoured fairy tales but once I ran my way through all of those, I switched to Nancy Drew and other “young adult fiction.” The teacher didn’t like my reading choices, but she had done her job. Most weeks I took out the maximum number of books I was allowed — 10.  And I read them all.

A recent issue of the Brainpickings blog, by Maria Popova, discusses the issue of libraries in a way I appreciate. Popova describes them as the “most democratic cultural temples of wisdom where we come to commune with humanity’s most luminous minds; where the rewards are innumerable and destiny-changing, and the only price of admission is willingness.” So true.

I also like the way she quotes a memorable poem by Joseph Mills, titled “If Librarians Were Honest.” Here is part of it:

If librarians were honest,
they wouldn’t smile, or act
welcoming. They would say,
You need to be careful. Here
be monsters. They would say,
These rooms house heathens
and heretics, murderers and
maniacs, the deluded, desperate,
and dissolute. They would say,

These books contain knowledge
of death, desire, and decay,
betrayal, blood, and more blood;
each is a Pandora’s box, so why
would you want to open one.

Isn’t that marvellous? Go to Popova’s blog post to read the entire poem. Today’s libraries are suffering as they make the transition to a new digital world. School children frequently don’t take out books to research their essays; instead, the speak with Dr. Google.

But libraries have computers, stacks of books and, best of all, librarians. These are people who are paid to help you do your research. I’ve always found them to be wonderfully helpful and sympathetic.

Mills’ poem concludes:

No one
spends time here without being
changed. Maybe you should
go home. While you still can.

I agree. But I don’t think it’s just the books. It’s also the librarians.