Celine Cooper, Nederland. I came across a quote the other day that I’d like to share. It was written by author and columnist Caitlin Moran in an article about, you guessed it, libraries. She says, “A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead.” Libraries have a long tradition of being places where one can enjoy solitude and silence, and soak up knowledge about worlds both familiar and foreign. At a library, your only ‘job’ is to engage yourself in whatever interests you, knowing that nothing else is demanded or expected of your time.
Even though libraries have been established for centuries, there are many stereotypes we ascribe to libraries, and specifically librarians themselves. Close your eyes and imagine a librarian. She has glasses, doesn’t she? Is she middle aged, and also wearing a cardigan? Does she insist on saying “shhh!” If this is who you’ve pictured, I am sure you are not alone. Now I want you to think about the ever-changing faces of our country and world, our technological advances, globalized markets and economies, changing climate, and picture the person at the forefront of helping us face that with knowledge and grace.
Is this person young, hip, passionate, and loud? Does this person possibly have multiple bright colors highlighted in their hair? Can they talk about anything from Moby Dick to Makerspaces, Ayn Rand to Arduino Uno?
As our world is changing, our public institutions such as libraries and the people who are drawn to working in them, are too. This month, I am honored to attend the Public Library Association (PLA) Conference which is being held this year in Denver. This conference will welcome librarians from all over the country who are constantly seeking ways to support, engage, and inspire their local community.
These librarians speak multiple languages, have participated in global librarianship initiatives and joined the fight for international intellectual freedom. They have inspired thousands of kids from diverse backgrounds to be curious about the world around them, and become engaged citizens of the world. They help parents and elders become literate in the ever growing digital world. They fight and work every day to ensure that our freedoms are being protected, and that all people have equal and broad access to whatever interests and engages them.
After having attended several library conferences, I can honestly say that librarians are the most passionate people I have ever met. Our jobs are not always easy- we see people who are struggling, mentally ill, and burdened by life’s many setbacks. We see kids who need support that schools or other institutions are unable to give them, and parents who are overworked and overwhelmed. We are your temporary counselors, confidants, tech support and friends, and we still wouldn’t have it any other way.
This month, I encourage you to challenge your notions of what the library is- whether a life raft amidst life’s many storms, or simply a quiet place to check Facebook. Furthermore, take a good look at the people who come every day to the library to ensure that you are helped, taken care of, and informed. Rain, snow, or shine we are here, and we always appreciate being recognized for the hard work we do.
Celine Cooper is the Children’s Services Coordinator at the Nederland Community Library.