An Ode to Libraries and Librarians
My new thriller JUMP CUT, the 5th Ellie Foreman novel (and the 1st time I’ve gone back to her in 10 years), includes two scenes set at Ellie’s library. The scenes also include Melissa, one of the librarians. That’s because librarians have made a HUGE difference in my life, and I wanted to give them a shout-out. Indeed, if I could write a song and sing I would. But I can’t. So words are going to have to do.
But let’s start at the beginning.
A magical place right from the start
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. (Plink, plink, plink). 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 biked to 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 them. In a way the library became a grocery store of ideas, where I could find anything I wanted— a treasure trove of discovery, delight, or escape.
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. Of course, at that age, 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.
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 people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.
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 grateful that they exist. So I hope, if you’re a librarian, you’ll realize how much you’re appreciated.
And if you’re not a librarian, go to your library and make friends with one. You won’t be sorry.
And, you won't be sorry if you order Libby Fischer Hellmann's Jump Cut, Poisoned Pen Press. 978-1464205194.
Libby's website is http://www.libbyhellmann.com