Libraries: I heart you.

So a few months ago I recieved an email from Lucas Maxwell, the Youth Services Librarian at the Tantallon Public Library in Nova Scotia, Canada. He had a request: would I please be willing to send a quick letter to the teens at his library explaining how important libraries are to me. I thought this was a fantastic idea. So many libraries are being slowly strangled by lack of funding and budget cuts--people have become complacent. We've forgotten what a wonderful thing libraries are. Free knowledge open to the masses. It's a gift and something we forget isn't available to everyone. 

My reply to Lucas was lengthy--probably overly so, but he happened to strike a passionate nerve. I have always loved libraries. After my book came out and I got so much support from librarians, well, I loved them even more. So I asked Lucas if I could (with his permission because I didn't want to post something I'd written special for his teens without asking) post the letter I'd written so that maybe others could see it, especially librarians who might like to do their own version of this for their teen programs. I'm hard pressed to think of any author who wouldn't want to take a minute to write a little love letter to the libraries out there.

So thanks for all the love, librarians. And to all you readers out there, take a moment to thank your local library. Bake them some cookies. Smile at the person shelving your books. They give us a lot. Give a little back.

So here is my overly wordy response. Hope you like it.

Lish

 

Dear Youth of Tantallon,

Your youth services librarian emailed me a while back and asked if I would be willing to share my feelings about libraries and how important they are to me.  Well guys, you’re in for a lengthy answer. I’ll try to keep it brief but…I love libraries. I mean, I have to, right? I’m an author. We’re contractually bound to love anywhere that has our book. I’m sure that’s what you’re thinking.

But I’ve loved libraries for as long as I can remember. How could I not? That’s where books live and they let you borrow them for free. That’s an amazing concept.

I started reading when I was three. I’m a fast reader and, living in Washington State, one of the consistently drizzly places, I had a lot of time to read. I was lucky that both my mom and my step mom were really supportive of reading. They read to me at night, took me to the library, and bought me books. Even my brother who never, ever reads a book on his own (he still hasn’t read my book, which he feels bad about) used to read to me. I was very lucky.

I remember my first library fondly. It wasn’t much—I lived in a small town. I can’t give you population or demographics or anything, because that would be boring, but let’s just say that it was small enough that a big day out was going to the feed store to see the baby chickens. It was a library built around the needs of our town—we had a navy base and a ship yard which at the time equaled a lot of young moms left on their own with children. So there were a lot of picture books and romance novels. We had a few computers, though I doubt you guys would recognize them as such, and a card catalogue…you might need to ask your librarian what that is.

It wasn’t long before I was ordering books in. We’d have to fill out a piece of paper to order something and then wait 4-7 days (longer if there was a wait) and then the librarian would call me to come in and pick it up. The minute I got the call I would start following my mom or step mom around saying, “Can we go yet? How about now? The library closes in twenty minutes! We can make it if you drive fast!” And generally make a nuisance of myself until it happened. I couldn’t stand the idea of a book waiting for me.

When I got to go to school, I was excited because now I had two libraries to pilfer. In high school, which for me didn’t last long, the library was a good place to hide, and the librarian someone I could always count on. Maybe it sounds cheesy, but it was a safe harbor for me. The library was something that felt like mine. I understood books more than I understand how high school worked.

  I dropped out of high school, which isn’t that much of a surprise. Before you start to consider that option, you should know that I went to college. A lot of it.  I have a master’s degree in fiction. You know what that means? Hours in wonderful, fantastic libraries.

I didn’t have much money when I was in school, so sometimes I didn’t have a printer. My applications for graduate school were printed out at my local library. After hurricane Katrina I was evacuated to a very small town in Mississippi with my family. As a disaster victim, not only did I not have money for books…there wasn’t much of a bookstore. (I went in once, laughed and walked out.) So I went to the local library there. I would get stacks of books to read to my son who was just a toddler at the time. (Side note: a lady there once asked me if the picture books were for me. When I said no, they were for my son, she said, “That’s great. I didn’t think anyone read to their kids anymore.” It was officially one of the saddest conversations I’ve ever had.)

            After that, we all went to help my mom rebuild her house, which had been destroyed in the flood. Her local library (also destroyed) was being housed in a mobile home. They didn’t have much and it took them years to rebuild. My mom would go to their used books sales, not just to get books, but to try to support her local library and help them come back.

            Back in New Orleans after the hurricane, library system was really hurting. Many of the branches were destroyed, books lost, and the funding was nonexistent. It’s hard to live in a city with no library. It made me truly appreciate my library once I got back home to Seattle. My library offers so much. Yes, books and computers, but also free classes, and opportunities for people to meet authors, hear music, connect with a larger community. 

            We got to our library once or twice a week. My son has to go with me—he insists. He can’t quite read yet, but he likes to pick out books, comics, music, and audio books. He likes to go to their playground afterward. We both felt at a loss when they had to do a furlough week this year to save jobs.

           Last time we went the librarian gave him a sticker that said, “I love the Seattle Public library.” I read it to him and he said, “That’s a good sticker. It’s true. I do love the library. They have good books there.” He’s only seven, but even he knows how important and wonderful the library can be. It’s a magical place. A quiet place. A lovely, safe, warm place, and there aren’t a whole lot of those left out there.

         The library has been there for me at every important juncture in my life. I can’t imagine my existence without it.

  This letter has already gone on too long, but I wanted to make sure that you guys really understood how important libraries have been to me over the years. And now, because I honestly don’t have a printer right now, I’m off to a library to print this out. 

  I’m not kidding. I really am. Plus my books are due and I don’t want late fees.

  Best wishes and happy reading,

 

Lish McBride