15 Sep 2014
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To Be or What: A Lesson Learned

A tribute to the local public library and a lesson a librarian taught me years ago.

To Be or What: A Lesson Learned To Be or What: A Lesson Learned

"Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation." —Walter Cronkite

"Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future." —Ray Bradbury


As I grew up, there was always a public library in my life. I had a library card before I had a credit card. This idea of befriending my library was long before the internet was in vogue. This was also before personal computers were in everyone's homes.

In all my encounters in the libraries over my life, there's one I remember the most. When I was a young child of 14, I went to the New Carrolton Library in Prince George's County in Maryland. This library was my first real experience with a real public library. When I went to  Robert Goddard middle school library, their library were understocked of a lot of books. At 14, I consided this library at New Carrolton huge. In hindsight, this library was a nice sized library. However, as I have grown older and wiser, I have seen bigger sized libraries. You know the old expression: you never forget your first. The New Carrolton Library still is one of my favorite places to visit.

My teacher in school had given the class an assignment which we needed to go to a library for look up information. She told us that we needed to do research, something a young 14 year old was alien to. 

So when I went to the library, I bee-lined myself to the information desk. The librarian at the desk was a blonde woman with a dowdy face

I approached the desk with all the cockiness and swagger that a 14 year old teen who thought he was cool would have.

"I need a book!"

The librarian looked at me with a blank gaze. Without a second thought, she spoke with a tone of authority. “That's nice. Have you looked the book up?”

“Well… er… no.”

This librarian then gave me a lesson in looking up books, which I never will forget as long as I live. She started explaining the card catalog (this was before the card catalog system was computerized and interneted like it is now). The cards were file cards in a larger than life card file cabinet. She explained: “A book could be searched by title, author, or subject.”  

Then she explained the Dewey decimal system—if you do not know, that is how many libraries categorizes books—to my immature 14-year-old mind. Did I get a lesson? You better believe it!

This librarian pointed me in right direction. However, she never showed me where the book was nor pointed me to the shelves. She hinted, but never revealed, where it was. After a few mistakes, I found the section where the books on the subjects were found. There was a pride that I did it myself.

From this special interaction with this librarian, a friendship with this special librarian was born. Sally was a great teacher, wonderful resource, and a supportive friend. I knew her for 40 years and things she taught me long ago I still use. She also taught me to love the library system and my love of the libraries, a gift I can never repay.

When I think of the library, I think of her.

Food for Thought

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