Librarians and fictional characters have been on my mind this week. I’ll confess this came to me as I was sitting on the patio admiring the freshly mown grass. My story’s alien civilization needs a history, both oral and written. But do they have computers or books? Is their paper plant, animal or chemical based? Do they write, type or paint? Paint, is a viable option, based on the brushes and techniques of Asian cultures. Do they have librarians?
Mrs. Taylor was the first librarian I knew. She was also the first African American I met. Sitting behind a huge flat desk, she was the guardian to adventures. She hand-stamped each and every book I wanted with a date stamp that she re-inked every few books. Without her, I would not have read the messages in Charlotte’s Web or heard The Trumpet of the Swan. There would have been no sailing off to Treasure Island or flying on a broom stick with Dorrie the Good Witch.
Librarians are still the keepers of adventure, at least to me. I worry about their future. An entire generation exists that will never pull out a drawer and search for a card to find a book. When everything is on line, what will happen to librarians? There was an episode of the “Twilight Zone” that asked that same question, the unfortunate librarian was put on trial and asked to justify his existence. As with most things in the Twilight Zone, it did not go well for him. I appreciate the ability to search the library database from home for a book. Audio and e-book downloads anytime day or night are water in the desert. But a book in the hand is still a mighty wonder for me.
I wonder about entrusting the safety of our written heritage to digital storage. With millions of copies of a book in print there is tangible proof of an author’s words. If everything is digital, what is to prevent the words from being changed, for good or evil. Everything can be hacked, or airbrushed these days. History, if you study it, is full of people who change facts to suit their purposes, who misquote and vilify. In two hundred years, without a hardcopy, who can prove what we commit to memory on a server today? Who will be our librarians? Who will stand-up when someone wants to erase an entire category of books and shout “No!”. How will our descendants even know if books are being tampered with? Librarians have been the keepers of the books, the guardians of the information. We need them.
The librarians at the library I use are an interesting assortment of people. They make going to the library fun. Until this library, I had not spent much time as an adult chatting with librarians. On my first visit, I was upset that there was not a self-checkout station and that holds were kept behind the desk. My previous library had eight self-checkouts and a self-help hold area. It was a major inconvenience when I first moved here. Now there is a self-checkout area, but I never use it. I want to hear about my librarians’ reads, the weather, their kids, their cooking adventures, movie reviews, etc.
Did I mention that they encourage writers? This is my thank you to them.
Book collectors and librarians. Writers and readers. Booksellers and browsers of the stacks. We’re all united by the written word. The facts and fantasies that lie dormant between two covers until set free. Is that a “signpost up ahead“? I’m not afraid, I have my library card. Do you?