Monday, January 19, 2009

On Libraries

" My library was dukedom enough " The Tempest

Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza

RO: Anyone who knows me, knows how bullish I am on libraries. Perhaps it was all those days spent in the children's section at the Clarendon Branch of the Brooklyn Public library, before I graduated to the temple of knowledge at the library's Grand Army Plaza branch.
When I was in the first grade, I was a transfer student from a Catholic school in my former neighborhood (two months and I still have the scars..but that's another blog.) My name was put at the very bottom of a large chart in my classroom. Stickers were put next to our names for every book we read that year. Maybe there was a prize, I don't remember, but for me it was the honor - and I had some catching up to do. I wanted to have the most little stickies and be known as the best..even though I was the new kid. ('s that for competitive?)
I haunted the library and the librarian kept them coming..biographies, horse books, dog books, children's classics. I did eventually have the most stickies and more importantly, a love for reading that continues today.
This weekend I'll be in Denver for the MidWinter meeting of the American Library Association; I'll be spending one day at the St. Martin's booth and the other helping out at the Bouchercon booth.(If you're there, stop by,say hello, pick of an ARC of The Big Dirt Nap and some snazzy Jungle Red bookmarks.)
Librarians today can be a mystery writer's best friends. They don't care how big your marketing budget is, or how many days it's been since your pub. date. All they care about is that you've written a good book and are willing to visit their libraries. I've visited dozens in the last year and didn't do one event at a Barnes & Noble (not that I wouldn't, if you're out there..;-)
Anyway, on Wednesday Jane Murphy from the Westport, CT Public Library will be guestblogging here. She's one of the organizers of a new mystery event being held in Connecticut this April, Murder203, Come back to see what Jane has to say, and in the meantime, how about telling us some of your best library experiences?
JAN: I loved bringing my kids to the library when they were little. The Westwood Library had (has) a terrific children's room and in the summer used to award the kids leaves to put on the tree mural for every book they read. My kids developed a love of reading that endured.
But most of all the library is what gives me the strongest sense of community. It's sort of like the Cheers bar -- where everyone knows your name.
ROBERTA: I spent a ton of time at my hometown library in Berkeley Heights NJ when I was a kid. We all hauled home stacks of books and then disappeared into our rooms to read. Last month, I was elected to the library board in my current home town. (My husband was the chair for eight years so I believe this could be a case of political nepotism...) On election night, we had a huge disappointment when the bond for major renovations was voted down by a slim margin. Some people--not many but enough--think we don't need libraries these days because we have the Internet. That sounds crazy to me!
RO: That's because the internet is so reliable and 100% accurate, right? (I'm joking, of course...)
RHYS: The public library was my first big adventure. It was the first place I was allowed to go alone in the evenings in my teens. And the first time I was allowed to prowl the adult section, unsupervised (yes, I did take a peek at Lady Chatterly and similar items, I guess, but I also discovered Dorothy Sayers, and all those wonderful Golden Age mystery writers). I spent so long there that my father was convinced I went there to meet a boy--he was very protective. At that stage in my life, twelve or thirteen, the books were more enticing than any boy.
Since being a writer I have done library events all over the country and love connecting with readers and librarians.
HALLIE: I remember getting my first library card, and reading a gazillion biographies (Clara Barton, George Gershwin, Marie Curie...) and all the Betsy, Tacy and Tib books. They didn't ALLOW children in the adult section back then, and what I remember is the momentous day when I reached whatever age it was that I could go upstairs and breathe the rarified air up there. I still don't know why they had that rule. Maybe to keep the noise down upstairs, or maybe to protect our fragile minds from the muck of Faulkner and Lawrence.
A little silver lining of the downturn in the book business has been a boom in library use. I love mine. YAY MILTON LIBRARY. And they're about to reopen a brand new library in a few months.
HANK: Yay NEWTON LIBRARY! It's beautiful, welcoming, relaxed, and the folks there are infinitely knowledgeable. And of course the Boston Public Library is the elegant lady of the city. Gorgeous, full of riches and full of wonderful secrets. I adore it.
RO: I just found out that I'll be doing an event there this March...I'm so honored to have been asked.
HANK: When I was growing up, waaaay in the exurbs, the nearest library was in my school. I treasured my library card, and somehow it made me feel like a part of something. I read the encylclopedia, volume by volume, sitting in that library. All those blue biographies when I was like, eight: Clara Barton, Girl Nurse? Or Dorothea Dix, Girl of the Streets? Something like that? ('Girl of the streets' doesnt sound exactly right...but you know what I mean.) On the school bus, I would lug home the limit, ten books. And not let my sisters touch them.
And you had to be really really really quiet. Scary quiet. Now, chatting with librarians, I know they're trying to change their image from stern disciplinarians into being wonderful guides through a fantastic new world. Maybe they need--superhero uniforms?
RO: Yes..all those biographies...Booker T. Washington and Luther Burbank were two that I remember reading when I was little...and something about someone who took care of lepers! (I was a serious kid..) Wonder what bios kids are reading today? Anybody know?


  1. I also loved those blue biographies! I remember reading the Thomas Edison one probably a million times. Then there was Encyclopedia Brown, the Black Stallion, Nancy Drew, my mom's Bobbsey Twins, Judy Blume, Harriet the Spy, and whatever "true" ghost books I could get my hands on. The most perfect day in the world was the day my mom would tell us we were going to the library. My kids like it, too--and it's easier as they've gotten older and, um, quieter (as toddlers, it was really hard). They like getting movies, there, too. In fact, my husband just wrecked our minivan and we're considering getting one without the DVD player this time. Driving home the other day, my son saw a hawk instead of Sponge Bob. Imagine that!

  2. It's not just the libraries, it's the librarians. My hometown was really small, and our library was one room, and we had one librarian, Susan Bloch English. She's one of the reasons I'm a writer today. Seldovia Public Library had so few books she'd only let patrons take out four at a time, but I read so fast she let me take out eight.

    Librarians are my favorite people in the world. They're some of the best people in the world, too, and some of the most necessary. They man the gate between us and the barbarians, and they are our first responders to attacks on the First Amendment.

  3. Berkeley Heights, Roberta??? As in NJ??? I grew up in New Providence and spent plenty of time in our library there. It's been enlarged since--my mother is right across the street from it.
    One thing that wasn't mentioned is...library fines. I'm probably still wanted in several states. LOL.

  4. I think it's wonderful that Dana remembers the librarian's name..I feel awful that I don't. Where did you grow up? Alaska?

  5. I was also really competitive in the summer reading program at my library in Temple City, California - I wanted to get the award for most books read. Many were biographies of women, but I also read the One-of-a-Kind Family series, the Four-Story-Mistake series, the Borrowers, that series about a dancer, a skater, and of course all the Black Stallion books.

    One summer we had to write a book report on a form for each book - draw a picture and then write a summary. My mother actually kept a stack of them that I did, and I remember that writing about the book was my favorite part. The reading gene seems to have passed on my sons - Allan (now 22) got an award for reading 100 chapter books in the summer after 2nd grade (and I'm gently urging him to consider a career as a librarian!). It still bothers me that the libarians don't make people be quiet anymore, though.


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  7. Please correct typo in previous comment: librarian, not libarian. Aargh.

  8. Oh, library fines! Oh, confession. I have,right here by my desk, the Treasury of Great Poems English and American edited by Louis Untermeyer. From the Pike HIgh School library.

    The due date is, um, April 24,

    It's a wonder they let me graduate. (They were probably so happy to get rid of me, one book of poetry didn't matter.)

    And I still use the book, anyway.

    Dana, I hope you got to tell your librarian how much it all meant to you. And still does.

  9. Hank,
    Let's see 1967...I think they'll be coming for your house...maybe you should send them a copy, anonymously, of course.

  10. I remember loving Sherlock Holmes and being worried that the librarian would refuse to let me take out the book because it was called A BOY'S Sherlock Holmes! Then I remember my girlfriend checking out marriage manuals! And trying to decipher them because we couldn't make heads or tails out of what they were saying. The librarian gave her quite a look, but she was very tall and just drew herself up and handed over her library card!

  11. I want to say I LOVE my library. The Scituate Public Library is an oasis for all. Right now I am enjoying three audiobooks, three movies, about ten books I am using for research for work and two CD's (a great way to see if you want to buy one!). I have loved the smell, sounds and sanctuary of libraries since my childhood. Is there anywhere else you can hear so many delicious whispers? The best thing about my library is I have a crew of fabulous librarians all waiting to help me find my latest pick. I could hang out all day in my library. Maybe I will...

  12. I grew up in Virginia, and we visited the Scottsville library (just outside of Charlottesville) every week. We would take as many books as we could carry. Our ilbrarian, Louise Holt, was just so pleased that circulation was up that she never told us a book was too old for us or anything.

    I loved the biographies, too--I remember reading Amelia Earhart and Marie Curie.

    My library card to the Brooklyn library is very much in active use these days--and sometimes my five year old son takes out so many books we exceed our limit! Maybe it's about time to get him his own card...