Went to KidLitCon this past weekend, and got to hang out with a lot of librarians, which is always nice. All the more reason to come up with a post about both libraries and librarians. This is from esteemed reader Els Kushner. And it will kind of kill you to think about how much doing a nice thing for another person can change everything for them.
When I was 23 years old I went to Alaska. I lived in a tent and worked for most of the summer in a salmon cannery.
The library there was nothing much to look at: one small room, tucked in a corner of the municipal building. But someone there was doing some seriously thoughtful collection development. Because the library issued cards to temporary cannery workers, even those of us whose address was Tent City, I was able to check these books out and read them back in my tent in the half-hour or so between the late-night campfire unwinding time and dropping-off-to-sleep-from-exhaustion time.At the library there was an electric typewriter. The typewriter was behind the desk, at right angles to the station where the librarian sat. Clearly, it was meant for her use, and not for the public. But somehow, I found the nerve to ask if I could use it. And that kind woman, without asking me any questions, said that I could. And so I sat there, hour after hour, day after day, typing up my experiences of the summer, in a letter home that eventually came to over 100 single-spaced pages and constituted the longest sustained piece of narrative writing that I've accomplished thus far in my life.I was self-conscious about sitting in my grubby cannery-worker clothes in what was obviously staff space, but not once do I remember anyone so much as asking me how much longer I planned to be there. They just let me type.
One of my great regrets is that I can't find the photocopy I made of that 100-page letter. Another is that, beyond maybe a few mumbled words as I left the typewriter each day, I never truly thanked the library staff for what they did for me. I had loved libraries my whole life, but it wasn't until that summer that I understood, viscerally and personally, the lifeline that a library can be. It was one of the things that led me to become a librarian myself several years later. I wish I could say I'm as gracious now when patrons ask for some over-the-line favor as the Petersburg Public Library staff was to me that summer. Sometimes I am, but not always.
And I do still have my Petersburg library card. One day, I'd like to go back and use it, and tell this story to the people who work there now.