Seven Librarians Share the Reasons They Love Libraries
*Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.
February 14th is the day we celebrate love in all its many forms, including the love of libraries. Here at Bookish we’ve been known to swoon over our local libraries. In fact, we are so tongue-tied about our own love for them that we decided to consult the people who adore libraries so much that they have devoted their careers to them. To celebrate Library Lovers’ Day we’ve asked seven librarians to tell us why they love libraries.
Share your love of libraries in the comments below!
“I love libraries for so many reasons. First, the library made me a writer—childhood hours spent reading library books taught me how to write a sentence, how to understand my fears and experiences, and how to tell my own story. I value the library as a pure community space unaffected by the exigencies of commerce—no one expects me to buy anything or to limit my time; I can simply hang out and read. Furthermore, the library is a democratic institution: Its resources belong to all and are accessible by all. At the library, we can find information that helps us live, learn, dream, and be more engaged citizens—for a mere few tax dollars per month. Value-added bonus: The library profession is committed to protecting everyone’s First Amendment right of freedom of speech, thought, and inquiry. Libraries are badass, radical, and crucial. How can people not love them?” —Stella Beratlis, reference librarian at Modesto Junior College and author of Alkali Sink
“What makes a library? For me, it is a place of ongoing conversation and communication. It’s a space where everyone in the community is welcome to participate in those talks. When I first began working at libraries, I thought mostly about collection development. I thought about what the library housed, not who it served. Now I’d say I think about librarianship the way I think about the world around me. I want it to succeed because I want my community to succeed. Libraries are spaces that give back infinitely—they are one of the only places you can go that are dedicated to figuring out what you need, even if you aren’t sure what that thing is. Libraries are bastions of information, certainly, but they are also repositories of community service.” —Kristen Arnett, access services librarian and circulation supervisor at a law library in Florida and author of Felt in the Jaw
“I am not the first to love libraries, and won’t be the last—thank god for millennials! Beyond the more obvious reasons to love libraries (love of reading, free programs for adults and children, free wifi, and so on), I really love libraries for their grit, tenacity, and revolutionary, rebellious spirit! Not what you think of when you think about your public library? Ditto. Until I began to learn more about the quiet, unassuming chutzpah libraries have shown since their inception. Libraries exude an incongruous mix of innocence and hope with a serious rage-against-the-machine attitude. Within these walls exist the librarians—protectors of books, intellectual freedom fighters, and guardians of patrons’ rights. Imagine a world where Harry Potter was successfully banned. You can thank a librarian that these treasures are still on the shelves. Libraries have been at the forefront of the battle for net neutrality, fighting for equal access to the internet. And right out of the pages of a superhero comic comes the real life story of the Connecticut Four—four librarians who, under a gag order as well as threat of imprisonment, steadfastly fought the federal government’s unwarranted, overreaching demand for personal and private information on patrons. Libraries provide refuge to those in need, from assisting homeless populations every day to helping victims during catastrophic events. Many librarians are now being trained to administer Narcan to help in the opioid crisis. And fearless libraries have kept their doors open to the public during the Ferguson unrest of 2014, the Baltimore protests of 2015, and even during the civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama. By providing this refuge, libraries create a gathering place where communication can occur, information can be shared, and community can grow. With what seems like an ever-shrinking amount of empathy and understanding among humans, libraries provide an opportunity for people to interact with each other in person, and to subsequently gain awareness about the others sharing this planet alongside us. By doing so, libraries help build a more resilient people. I am Groot. (I love libraries.)” —Erin Tuomi, assistant director at the Newbury Town Library
“One winter morning in 2005, I locked myself out of my house. I’d just driven my daughter to school and was still in pajamas and slippers under my parka. No spare key in the garage, under a rock, at a neighbor’s. My husband wouldn’t be home till 7:30. My wallet was on the kitchen island next to the house key. Frazzled, I wondered where I could go to kill the hours without imposition or expense or—most crucially to me— embarrassment. The answer was obvious: my local library. There, a friend on staff chuckled sympathetically at my predicament, offered me coffee, spare socks. I meandered through the dusty stacks, slipping into the forgotten pleasure of aimless perusing, and narrowed in on Seamus Heaney’s verse translation of Beowulf. I sat by a glass door with a view of woods, nodded good morning to some cheery seniors, bundled my parka closer, and got lost until I had to pick up my girl. Now I work at that library and love the idea of the place as refuge as well as resource. A place of welcome, no matter how unwashed, half-dressed, needful, frantic, demanding, snobbish, chatty, nervous, exuberant, or miserable a patron is. A place to get safely lost.” —Eileen Frankel Tomarchio, staff librarian at a New Jersey library
“I think I fell in love with libraries before I understood what they were, before I could tap their limitless potential just by wandering their square footage and running my finger along the books’ spines. You see, there is a black and white photograph of me sitting on my father’s lap at his desk at his library. I am about three years old, and he is young and his beard is big and puffy like a lumberjack’s. My father was a librarian at a year-round school for severely physically handicapped children and in the summer he would take me to work with him so that I could play with the kids while he worked. I remember how he welcomed each child as he or she entered the library. I would stare and take in in, and even feel a little jealous of how loved he made those kids feel.” —Olivia Gatti, librarian at Brooks School
“Outside of the high school library I run, I spend many of my hours at Central Library, part of the Brooklyn Public Library. I take photos to celebrate the library as sacred space, where one can both confirm who they are and become someone else. What I love the most about the library is the people, because without the people, a library is a building full of information without purpose. I love that the library is where my mother took English as a second language (ESL) classes and where she wrote her first poem in English. I love the people who inhabit the art section and sit and draw and collage or make watercolor paintings. I love the people who build forts of books around them and consult well-worn stacks of notes, presumably writing a book or a manifesto or nothing at all. I love the men and women studying for nursing or civil service exams. I love that the library is one of the last public spaces anyone can go and take, take, take without giving a cent. In my writing and in my life, I seek the unexpected in the everyday and the library never disappoints.” —Adalena Kavanagh, librarian at Sunset Park High School Library
“It is hard for me to articulate why I love libraries. They have always been in the background of my life. I grew up in my hometown’s public library. I attended story time as a kid, joined a mother-daughter book club as a teen, and even worked as a page in high school. I worked in my college library, interned at an antiquarian society, and helped friends start an anarchist collective library. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to pinpoint the moment that libraries became the foundation of my life, walking through Georgetown’s library where I work now, watching students frantically typing and dust motes floating through shafts of sunlight. I love the people, the conversations, the constant opportunities for learning—but I know that isn’t why I stayed. I love the fight for patron privacy, the fierce commitment to fair dissemination of information, the care and concern for all members of our community—but I think for me it’s something even simpler. I love the structure and order, the noble attempt to classify the intangible. I first fell in love with the Dewey Decimal System, its arcane largess able to contain nonfiction multitudes. I’ve grown to love the Library of Congress Classification System, with its rigid yet ever-modernizing classifications. I love archival finding aids, homebrewed special library systems, comic-shop pull lists, the color-coded books in my own home. Books contain everything we know, everything we’ve seen, everything we are, and naive and arrogant, we can’t stop trying to find ways to organize that. Every day I head into the stacks to track down a book, and every day I uncover new knowledge by proximity. The structure leads to discovery, to the words I hear hundreds of times a year in my job, that ‘I was looking for this book but then I found this one’ moment that opens doors. It encapsulates a very human need to understand each other, to draw connections, and at the core, that’s what I love about libraries.” —Dana Aronowitz, access specialist at Georgetown University Library