The other night, as I was trying to drift off into sleep, I begin thinking about books (surprise, surprise). More specifically, I was thinking about the book I am currently reading – Sourdough, by Robin Sloan – and how simply bizarre and delightful it is. My mother devoured it in one sitting on a Saturday. That in turn got me thinking about how there are all these unfound gems sitting on library book shelves across the country, each different and unique to their communities, and that got me thinking about those individuals who work in those libraries and how much of what they do goes unknown.
This, of course, is not unique to libraries. So much of what people do at their jobs - those small kindnesses and gestures - we, the outsider, we probably never be privy too. Working in a library, specifically a public library, those of us that work within those institutions are public servants. We work with and for the public. The *whole* public. And those that work the ‘front-of-the-house’ are really the ones that embrace that role daily. Dealing with the happy, the sad, the lost, the abandoned, the lonely and the loving. I feel that there is certain character of person that melds well within such a setting: one that has an open heart and mind.
Speaking from my experience here at TCPLS, whether it comes across right away or not, each employee (I am going to take liberties here and refer each of them as a Librarian, regardless of their possession of a Masters in Library Science or not) contains in their body such a heart and mind.
In the December issue of the Library Journal, the letter from the editor-in-chief (does anyone read those?) centered on the advocacy of grief. She was ruminating about how well library advocates are in “collecting the emotional outcome of stories that that bring to life how libraries change lives” and how, sadly, “we may need to start applying that [collecting savvy] to the outcomes of what happens when libraries are lost and gutted”.1 This hit home with me because as I was leaving the library at the end of my day, I was thinking about a specific woman in our library with one of the most loving natures that I have had the privilege to both work with and learn from. A woman that we will soon lose to very well-earned retirement.
Not only does she silently feed the homeless and abandoned who are fortunate to find shelter within our walls (joining them in companionable silence as they partake in a meal she has scrounged up) or go above and beyond what is asked of her by patrons seeking resources or answers to questions that some of us will, fortunately, never find ourselves needing to ask. But she tirelessly works to help keep histories and stories alive that are so easily and dismissively regarded as unworthy or lost to time. It made me think back to my search for a memoir about the intriguing character, Sydney Johnson, I was introduced to in the latest season of The Crown, only to be thwarted and crushed that none existed – yet another story lost to time.
Yet, just as the LJ editor-in-chief expressed, this grief and sadness of loss can be helpful and healing. I think that being exposed to such loss and sadness is a great wisdom to becoming a more open and thoughtful individual. Time will never stop moving forward, change will never cease to exist and people will continue to move on to new chapters in the story of their lives. What I so cherish in my time working in this public institution is that there will never be a day when I am not exposed to and experiencing a very real and humbling view of existence. (Let me tell you, coming from dealing with clients who did not blink an eye at dropping 3K on an outfit, I deeply cherish such realities.) Knowing that people can walk into these doors and find a bizarre, yet delightfully heart-warming book resting on a bookshelf; or find sanctuary after school; or connect with others from the community they would otherwise never meet through attending a library program; or unwittingly stubble upon an individual with an open heart who will not only help find an answer to their query, but who is will to truly listen to them, is so deeply encouraging.
Numbers and statistics alone will never make the case for what we lose, so we shouldn’t feel ashamed for sharing our sadness. We learn and evolve from loss. We grow closer and are enlightened to those small things we were once oblivious. We are reminded of our inner-connectedness and our capacity to spread love. I, for one, need such reminders on occasion as much as I need fictional stories about singing sourdough bread starters whose happiness shows its face once the dough is cooked. And I am glad I have the knowledge that I can fulfill that need within the walls of any public library.
-Samantha Hanchett, Marketing + Outreach Coordinator
1Schwartz, Meredith. (2022, December.) Editorial. Library Journal, 6.
*Please note that the opinions of “Thoughts” are just that and do not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas County Public Library.