Friday, December 13, 2013

Libby Fischer Hellmann's Ode to Librarians

When author Libby Fischer Hellmann and I had dinner a few weeks ago, she mentioned an idea she had for a post. It's Libby's gift to librarians, so it's my pleasure to share it here with librarians and anyone who loves libraries. Thank you, Libby!

An Ode to Librarians


  If I could write a song and sing it I would. But I can’t. So words are going to have to do. I want to thank librarians for the difference they’ve made in my life… and it’s a huge one.

A magical place right from the beginning

When I was a little girl — no more than three or four — my mother used to take me to the library, where I’d pick out lots of picture books. Of course I usually picked out the same books every week. As I recall, it was Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel or something like that, as well as Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. Even now, some 60 years later, I still remember those two magical books. But more importantly the library became a place that I associated with fun, pretty images, and safety.

Five books and I was in heaven…

When I first learned to ride a two wheeler, the first place I went was the library. I had baskets on the back of my bike, and I was able to check out as many as five books at a time. That was heaven. I’d come home, park my bike and tear into the first of my books. Libraries became almost like a grocery store of books, where I could find anything I wanted, a treasure trove of discovery, delight and escapism.

Discovering adult books early

I quickly outgrew children’s books and the children’s librarian, being a very intelligent woman, handed me over to the adult librarians. They allowed me to check out books like Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, which I read when I was about 10 years old. Being so young, I didn’t ‘get’ the subtleties and deeper meaning of the books, and I’ve gone back to reread them since. But it was an indication of the librarians’ trust in me that they allowed me to read adult books at such an early age.

Serious teen research

I used the library as a teenager, mostly for research on the papers I needed to write. The highlight came when, after my senior year in high school, I did research at the Library of Congress for my history teacher, who was writing a thesis on Harold Ickes. That was an experience: she had her own desk or “carrel” deep in the stacks of the library, and it was a real treat to go up there every once in a while, sit, and pretend I was writing my own thesis.

The writer’s best friend

I continued my love affair with libraries when I began to write in earnest. I still use the libraries as my go-to place whenever I need to do research. I’ll check out the book from the library, read it from cover to cover, take notes and return it with a thank you.

New technologies

The most exciting research came when I was writing Havana Lost, and, once again, my library was in the middle of it. I was researching Cuban intervention in Angola, and discovered (through Twitter, actually) a UK fellow who’d written his PhD on the subject. His thesis had been turned into a book, but—alas, it was over $300 on Amazon—and I couldn’t afford to buy it. Instead, I called my local library. Three days later, I held the book in my hands and read it from cover to cover.

A big ‘thank you’ to all librarians

I’ve saved the best for last. I haven’t told you about all the wonderful librarians I’ve met over the years. And I want to because they are some of my favorite people. They’re intelligent, articulate, and they understand what I want, sometimes before I know it myself.

But, most of all, they are really fun. Have you ever been out drinking with a bunch of librarians? If not, you’re in for a treat! They’re some of the most entertaining and interesting people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

Librarians have been a part of my life at every stage of my life. I couldn’t do what I do without them, and I am so grateful that they exist. So I hope, if you’re a librarian, you’ll have a very special holiday. You deserve it.

And if you’re not a librarian, go to your library and make friends with one.  You won’t be sorry.

Libby Fischer Hellman's website is


Joe Barone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Barone said...

I always think of my wife. She reads four or five books a week. When she was a child, they lived in the country with few resources. She read all the books in the mobile library, some of them several times. Libraries and librarians have had a huge influence on many of us from the beginning. (I used to always go and look immediately for Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I went from there.)

Things are changing, but there will always be a place for librarians and libraries. They democratize things, make resources available to underprivleged people as well as all of us.

Mason Canyon said...

I have fond memories of summers spent at the local library with my Mom. She signed me up for a summer reading program after first grade and every year after that I participated. The librarians were always so helped and became friends that I've cherished. Libraries and librarians are a wonderful thing I hope we never lose.

Thoughts in Progress

Lesa said...

Thank you, Joe. I'm glad you think of your wife when you think of how important libraries are to people. I hope there always is a place for librarians and libraries!

Lesa said...

I'm with you, Mason. I hope they're never lost. I hate to see so many people turn to ebooks, and no longer go to the public library.

Roberta said...

We just had our library's holiday party - only librarians would call an 8AM meeting a party - and I was struck again by how lucky I am to work with such a smart, cheerful, creative and generous group of people. I think we bring great value to our community and I know our community really values us!

Thank YOU for this love letter to libraries!

Roberta Johnson
Des Plaines Public Library

Lesa said...

We had ours yesterday at 8 AM, Roberta! and, it was fun. I love the people I work with!

Jane R said...

I started going to the library story times at a young age and later it was a special time spent with my father, who visited the library several times a week. When I decided to get my masters in library science, several people commented that they weren't a bit surprised at my choice. Quite by accident I became a children's librarian and have worked at a preschool for over 25 years. Even though my kiddos are exposed to technology on a daily basis, they still seem to find magic in a "real" book. Story times with my four year olds is a pure delight! (and I apologize for such a long post! Libby's sweet post inspired me!).

Lesa said...

Never apologize for a long post here, Jane. I love reading your comments. And, I understand why story times with your four year olds is delightful. I go to a school and read to the same second grade class once a month. I love those kids! They're bright and enthusiastic about the books. I wish they'd never lose that enthusiasm.

Charlotte said...

The library will always have a place in my heart. I am 73 years old and I still check books out.

Lesa said...

I'm so glad the library means a lot to you, Charlotte, ad that you're still checking out books. We need more people like you!