I had an intimate relationship with my librarian as a child. Now, before you get all sexy secretary on me, I’m talking about the holding-books-for-me-she-thought-I’d-enjoy, not-telling-my-parents-when-I-check-out-Flowers-in-The-Attic-twice-in-a-row kind of relationship. The stacks, the stacks, my childhood church, with the librarian as High Priestess, where I spent countless hours literally sticking my nose in books, drinking in the wood and verbena smells like a wine taster with a big sloshing glass of cabernet.
Nearly every day I would ride my bike to the library, run in, plop a stack of torn-through paperbacks on the librarian’s desk, and ask, “What cha got for me next?” Often she had some held for me, other times she’d sigh and say, “I can’t keep up with you, kid, I got work to do!” all while smiling and pointing me to the fiction section, where I’d invariably pick up the next in Stephen King’s autour, receiving no judgment from said librarian that I was reading horror instead of Little House on the Prairie.
When I got to high school, and found the librarian a wacky, neglected lady, who would draw little aliens on my bathroom pass during Study Hall, and just yearned for someone to take her up on her offer to show them how to properly cite a reference in their term paper. I started doing my homework in her office instead of at my desk, because she was one of the few faculty members who wasn’t afraid of my teen angst, manifesting itself those days in tangerine hair that fell over my scowling eyes in ways that made most shopkeepers in our suburban enclave follow me around their stores. But the librarian, an outsider herself for being too quirky and well-read for acceptance at pep rallies and the local Ruby Tuesdays, could care less if I had painted my fingernails black and invited her to the Hatebreed show at the VFW.
When I reached college, I’d realized that a first name basis with a librarian was a shoo-in to your name at the top of the list for reference texts, which I needed desperately because I couldn’t afford to buy all the books on my syllabus. I showed up with a plant for the librarian and was shortly sitting behind the desk, eating donuts and discussing C.S. Lewis versus J.R.R. Tolkien. College was the place where I finally found “my people”, and could not consider myself an outcast anymore, in need of a lonely librarian for a friend. It was then that my librarian relationship shifted from a Fairy Bookmother to a more utilitarian one, based on need for books rather than a place to land. I started to realize that the reason I loved the library so much as a child was that it was one of the few places it was socially acceptable for a child to be alone in. Now that I was grown, I had the freedom to go anywhere I wanted by myself, no longer needing the watchful eye of the librarian to guard me from the dangers of life outside the shelves.
These days, as a parent, I rely on the library for a place to take my child on rainy days, singing I’m A Little Tea Pot and exploring their selection of Sendak and Taro Gomi, introducing my child to every librarian we see. It’s paying off. My two-year-old recently saw the librarian at the farmer’s market, and it was like she had a celebrity sighting to the magnitude of a tween seeing Justin Beiber at Starbucks — “Look! Look!” she desperately pointed, her face a mixture of shock and delight. The wizened librarian came over, patted her afro and said, “I’ve got those Charlie and Lola books waiting for you when you come in next.” And I felt the circular nature of books, calling to me, calling to my daughter, calling to all of us, “come join our world of words!”