By: Val Nye
Peg Johnson is retiring from librarianship. She is a writer and has composed this tribute to our profession, our passion, our privilege.
Ode to Librarians
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Have you ever heard a kindergartener,
Arms waving wildly,
Shout to the teacher,
A librarian, I want to be a librarian?
Nah, me neither.
Even the nuns, those arbiters
Of all that was forbidden or permissible,
Dictating our options,
Preferably wife and mother,
But maybe teacher or nurse,
Even they never said librarian.
What gives? Why not?
Why does the little girl who comes home
From the children’s room of the library
Arms laden with books every week or
The little boy, hiding under the covers with his flashlight reading, well past lights out, or
The cheerleader and the quarterback, who never bring books to school,
But whose parents worry just the same,
Because those noses are always in a book at home,
Why do none of them ever dream of becoming a librarian?
If they only knew, they’d shout librarian from the rooftops.
Stop and think about it.
Even though there is no time to read,
Where else could you go to work every day,
Where you are surrounded by murder, mayhem, war,
peace, happiness, and great love?
Where you can climb Mount Everest and never get frostbite or out of breath?
Where adventure and danger await you at every turn,
But you can talk about it at dinner and have no scars to show?
Where Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and the atheists
Sit peacefully next to each other just waiting to have a conversation with you?
And did you ever think about how those books appear on the shelf?
It’s not magic; they don’t come of their own free will.
A librarian is deliberately choosing that book just for you.
Do you think everything is available for free with a google search?
I promise you it’s not and if librarians don’t think about getting it to you,
No one does.
And who is there to help your grandmother set up her email and
Your grandfather to follow you on social media?
Who is there to lead you to your next idea,
To your next job application,
To your next research paper,
To help you navigate the labyrinths of the internet and
Come out safe and whole on the other end?
Who is there to stand at the front lines of our democracy,
Guarding your right to think what you want, research what you want,
To read what you want, whenever you want, for free?
And to not whisper it to a soul, not even the FBI,
When they come knocking without a warrant,
And even then, what you’ve read and turned back in,
Has gone into the vast, lost corners of the ether,
Librarians, treasuring your privacy, don’t keep those records.
Walk into a library and you can
Feel the quiet and the chance
To just sit with someone else’s ideas
Or your own thoughts.
Walk into a library and you can’t help but feel,
Smarter, more erudite,
Where the sheer weight of the books and what they hold,
Is literally staggering.
Walk into a library and you can feel
The sacredness of this secular space.
Available to you for the asking,
With librarians as the guides for the curious and the willing.
Walk into a library and think about who makes all that happen?
Those little girls and boys don’t scream librarian
But they might if they knew that librarians, aren’t the stereotypes,
No, librarians are actually champions of knowledge, keepers of secrets,
And fearless warriors for freedom.
© Peg Johnson