I hope some of you saw the great piece on CBS Sunday Morning today, called “Pete Hamill on Jimmy Breslin and the heralded world of beat reporters.” Pete Hamill is well worth listening to as a wise man. He is also very well-spoken. One of the first quotes from his interview hit me close to home:
Interviewer: “Did you grow up poor?”
Pete: “We grew up poor, but not impoverished.”
Interviewer: “What’s the difference?”
Pete: “The library.”
That is the perfect explanation for my choice of careers! Many of my fondest memories revolve around getting my first library card and beginning my search for knowledge and entertainment in the small public library in Emporia Kansas. From searching endlessly through the stacks, to getting an additional dip on my imaginary ice cream cone for every book I read in the summer, libraries have been a quintessential part of my life, my search for meaning and my identification as an American.
“Since this country’s founding, public libraries have received broad and consistent popular support for their democratic missions and services. The ability to access free information has become a core ideal of what it means to be an American citizen, despite periods of historic inequality. Libraries help make this access possible by placing public benefit at the center of their work and continually adapting their strategies to meet changing public needs over time.” — A History of U.S. Public Libraries
Granted librarians are rarely glorified in our culture. In fact, historically we’ve been made fun of constantly as nasty ugly old sour-faced women who wear sensible shoes, their hair in a bun and say “Shhhhhhh!” To quote Wikipedia: “Stereotypes of librarians in popular culture are frequently negative… portrayed as puritanical, punitive, unattractive, and introverted if female, or timid and effeminate if male. Such inaccurate stereotypes are likely to have a negative impact on the attractiveness of librarianship as a profession to young people.” But many of us were too smart for that!
Use your mind everyday! Become a librarian!
I believed so much in the connection between American freedom of information, critical thinking and citizenship that I worked for years as a Government Information Librarian. The reference question I enjoyed most was introducing people from other countries to the book on “How to become an American citizen.” I was also an United Nations and International Documents Librarian. My funniest exchange there was the man who came up to the desk and tried to convince me how horrible the UN was. I responded with, ” I didn’t become a United Nations Librarian because I hate the UN.”
I have no regrets about being a librarian for 25 years. It was a positive and flexible career, one which allowed me to enjoy many adventures worldwide, while providing job security and a great retirement. In addition, I was able to celebrate and support everything I love about being an American!