Book People

When I was 4 years old, my mother took me to get my first library card. There are many childhood memories I’ve forgotten, but I’ll never forget Mama hoisting me to the library counter so I could autograph that card.

Of course, I couldn’t spell at that age, so my name came out looking like drunken Mandarin. But the card served me well over the years.

I grew up in libraries. I lived in them. I never quit visiting them. They were my safe haven. They were a place free of judgement.

When I worked construction, I was the guy who visited the library on lunch breaks. I would check out stacks of 10 sometimes 15 Louis L’Amour books.

A library was the only educational institution where blue-collar guys like me weren’t embarrassed about our low pedigrees and decades of bad grades. This is why, to me, libraries are the greatest institution.

All mankind’s children are welcome at the library to partake in ideas, knowledge, classic literature, and above all, free Abbott and Costello DVDs. No entrance exams, no tuition, no standardized tests. It’s enough to make you believe in God.

Over the course of my life, however, I lost touch with the library. I attended community college as an adult, and eventually quit construction. I became a halfwit author, I got writing gigs, had back surgery, I got married, got a mortgage. Life got in the way.

Until the pandemic.

Suddenly I was at the library again. The Walton County Library system became a safe haven. In fact, it was one of the only places I felt comfortable visiting during lockdowns.

One reason is because librarians are obsessive compulsive about sanitation. They sterilize each book like they’re prepping for neurosurgery. And they always take visitors’ temperatures with their little Star Wars laser thermometers.

Throughout this pandemic I’ve gotten to know the library workers from a distance.

There’s the employee who is wild about Mister Spock from “Star Trek.” She has Spock earrings, Spock stickers, Spock jewelry, and she’s always cheerful. When I check out books I have to fight the urge to show a full Vulcan salute.

There’s the older guy with the laser thermometer I was just telling you about. When he zaps my forehead he always tells me to “have a great day.” Sometimes he is the only person who says this to me all week.

There’s the gal in the back office. I once ran into this same lady when doing an author event in Nashville. I’ll never forget it. It was a big event, I was a hack author, out of my league and homesick, stuck in an overwhelming city with unfamiliar faces. I was even wearing a sportcoat—if you can just imagine.

That day I shook hundreds of hands in a busy convention center, and just generally spent the afternoon feeling like a fat idiot in a jumpsuit.

But out of the septillions of librarians visiting the book event from across the globe, I managed to find the ONE person from Walton County. I lost my mind with excitement.

We got our picture made together. And right before the camera flash, this woman turned to me and in a moment of heartfelt sincerity said something like, “You owe $7 in late fees.”

So I cannot describe how much I adore libraries. I love walking the aisles of books. I even love the process of selecting books.

Oh, there is an artform to choosing the perfect book. Like my granny used to say: “You can’t judge a book by its cover, so judge it by the author’s photograph instead.”

Which is true for me. The author photo matters when selecting a book. The picture cannot be cheesy. The author can’t be too young. Nobody wants to read serious literature written by a kid with a $10 haircut and a used-car-salesman smile. Take me, for example. My haircuts cost about $9.50.

But anyway, a lot goes into book selection. It’s a holy process. A gut feeling. It cannot be rushed. Which is why this morning at my local library I was gratified to see an artist at work.

I was in the fiction aisle when I saw a young man browsing. He was skinny, wearing a surgical mask, and he wore a neon construction vest. He carried a mile-high stack of books.

What impressed me was HOW he selected these books. This man knew what he was doing. He would glance across an entire shelf with the eyes of a falcon, gravitate toward a book, open it, inspect the author photo, and make a split-second decision. This guy was a pro.

I didn’t mean to, but I followed him. I watched him check out. I saw how friendly Mister-Spock Lady treated him. Then I watched the young man jog through the parking lot, climb into a work truck, eat a sandwich, and read during his lunch hour, blissfully turning pages.

And I was reminded of myself.

You see, I don’t fit the profile of a book guy. I never have. I come from humble people. I was a terrible student. But this unassuming American institution of learning gave me a chance. Librarians never told me what I couldn’t do, they only granted me access to the greatest ideas mankind ever produced. Books.

I owe as much to libraries as I do to the beautiful people who run them.

Maybe someday I’ll finally get around to paying that seven bucks in late fees.


  1. Rita Jane Iacino - March 25, 2021 6:37 am

    I love, love, love everything about this column. God bless librarians, the protectors of all that’s best about the human race, and God bless you, Sean.

  2. Christina - March 25, 2021 6:50 am

    Amen to the library being a safe haven. When the pandemic hit, our city talked about cutting funding to the library. My kids and I wrote to the city council describing how the library played a big part in us living in our city with different reading times and activities throughout the week (In fact, when my kids were little, they used to think going to the library and picking books was a reward, and it is). When the library finally opened up with limited capacities, my daughter made a card and brought in a box of chocolates. You should have seen the librarians’ faces… priceless, just like they have been to us.

  3. Kate - March 25, 2021 6:59 am

    We walked to the “Bookmobile” in Tampa, Florida when I was a child, mother and her four children. We all got books, even the baby on her hip, so we learned the joy of reading early. I have many memories but somehow going to the bookmobile as a child, and later always going to the library for so many reasons always sticks with me. Now, some community “leaders” feel we no longer need libraries and recommend closing them. Libraries have saved so many children and given them hope. Hopefully libraries will continue to be around for the next generations to come.

  4. Gordon Hall - March 25, 2021 7:35 am

    Time to take that book back, Sean. Some other young construction worker needs to read it.

  5. Laura - March 25, 2021 9:39 am

    Our little town built a brand new library that should have had a grand opening last year. I hope that someday soon they can finally have a big celebration and throw open the doors instead of the table out front where you pick up the book you ordered.

  6. Carroll Uithoven - March 25, 2021 10:25 am

    Once again you hit the nail on the head. My first childhood library was in an antebellum home. Later it was moved to the old high school band hall. Eventually a brand new building was erected where the old school stood. I regularly rode my bike to return & check out new books. Today I reserve books online. The bookmobile brings them to me, but I still like to go in just to see if they have something I missed.

  7. Leigh Amiot - March 25, 2021 10:33 am

    I am also among the many for whom the public library was a haven. When I was a child, I’d ride my bicycle to the library, check out the maximum allowed, place them in the white plastic basket with plastic flowers attached on the handlebars of my bicycle, go home and often have them all read before the due date, bring those back and get more. This is among the happiest memories of my childhood.

  8. Elaine Harvey - March 25, 2021 11:01 am

    Of all his great accomplishments, the library is Benjamin Franklin’s finest! I have used libraries all my life, and since the pandemic began, I am there sometimes twice a week (except for the few weeks they were closed, which was torture). Thank God, and Benjamin Franklin, for libraries.

  9. Suzi - March 25, 2021 11:02 am

    Our little library has been my saving grace during this pandemic. I have traveled from Maine to the Grand Canyon to Rome, neither wearing a mask or social distancing, loved, cried and cringed with the best of them.
    Our librarians are angels with passports to the world, a world of imagination and No Covid .

  10. BobLee - March 25, 2021 11:18 am

    re: Louis L’Amour … if Barnabas Sackett is not THE #1 All-Time Hero in American Fiction … then he is on a very very short list of those under consideration for that honor.

  11. Te Burt - March 25, 2021 11:44 am

    I’m with you on this one. Libraries gave me the life-long fascination about archaeology, novels, ideas outside the mainstream. I remember reading “Stranger in a Strange Land” at about 16 because the library had gotten one of the first copies. And I, in my ignorance of this book’s popularity, was one of the first to check it out. That book changed my life! So, yeah, the halls (between enormous shelving systems) of books are my temple.

  12. Greyn - March 25, 2021 11:49 am

    Some years back( many years back) Sylacauga High School had, in it’s employ, the world’s best librarian, bar none. Ms. Beth Hamil was that wonderful blend of formidable intellect, seriousness when required, and wry sense of humor all good librarians seem to have. Way ahead of her time, she was.

  13. Dee Thompson - March 25, 2021 12:04 pm

    Agree 100%. I have always loved libraries. Sean, your published collections of blogs inspired me. I just published a collection of my mother’s blogs. She passed away last year at 86. Check out Singing to the Cows.

  14. Bar - March 25, 2021 12:07 pm

    A (retired) librarian thanks you for your kind words.

  15. Xan - March 25, 2021 12:24 pm

    My library is in Pike Road, Alabama, which is part of the Montgomery County library system. It has been closed to visitors, but the librarians are still very hard at work. I go online and pick books I wish to read. I place my order and in a few days I receive an email telling me they are ready to be picked up. They leave them outside on the cart for me. My husband and I have read dozens and dozens of books since the pandemic began. I don’t know what we would do without our super librarians Matt and Jeanine. XOXOXO

  16. Richard Owen - March 25, 2021 12:28 pm

    “Live long and prosper.”

  17. Jim Schaaf - March 25, 2021 12:29 pm

    Right on – even CDs are good – before my grandson could read he checked out CDs – learned a lot about construction equipment, and as a high schooler, is very technically oriented – Jim

  18. Martha Taylor - March 25, 2021 12:38 pm

    I can’t tell you how much I love this post. Words fail. As a child, my mother took me and my twin sister to the library every week and we came home with grocery bags full of books. I became an English teacher and I shared my love of books with my students. My sister became a wife right out of high school, but she read more books than I did. She still does. With no formal education beyond high school, she became a book critic to get publishers to mail her free books. She got published in several newspapers , major and minor. Now in our seventies, we both rely on the library. During the pandemic our libraries offer curbside service. It’s a blessing. We order online and drive thru to pick up our reading material. When she visited me for two weeks (after we both received our vaccines), we made a trip to my library so she could have books to read during the visit. She averages one every two days. I actually keep a notebook of authors with a list of all their books and I check off the ones I read. I can’t remember the titles anymore and I get home sometimes with books I’ve already read.

  19. Phil (Brown Marlin) - March 25, 2021 12:46 pm

    Thanks for uplifting the written word, Sean, and for praising librarians. They are truly a special breed and should be respected for their dedication. Like you, I have a strange, nostalgic perhaps, love of the now old-fashioned “hard copy” versions of books. My friends all have progressed into the digital age and have trouble comprehending why i am stuck in my neanderthal ways. “Here,” one may say, “You can have this old Alistair MacLean book. I read it on my Kindle, you old geezer. (snicker, snicker).”
    Anyway, that’s just weird old me.
    BTW, don’t feel guilty about the $7 late fees. Once while in high school, I was given the option of buying a book from the library instead of paying the overdue amount. Purchasing the book was definitely the least expensive choice.

  20. Ann Williams - March 25, 2021 1:12 pm

    The Walton Co library was OPEN for BROWSING during the lockdown? You have no idea how blessed you have been! My previous library, Anniston-Calhoun Co. – had curbside service the entire time, but only recently has opened for browsing and normal events & services. The public library of Hamilton Co (Chattanooga, TN) is still locked down!! I have moved here to be with my daughter and truly loved my new library until a year ago when they went into lockdown overdrive. It was 3 or 4 months before they even had curbside service and that was only for books. I love the library and I love your columns. I hope all libraries will be completely open soon!

  21. John in Texas - March 25, 2021 1:25 pm

    Sean, your column hit home especially today. My mother was a librarian in the high schools and middle schools where we lived. After she retired she became an advisor for the city library. Her mantra was “I don’t know everything, but I know where to find it.” She has an intermediate school named for her in our hometown. My aunt, her sister, was a librarian for the armed services in Europe during the 1950’s and then became the head of the literature and history department of the Dallas public library downtown. I have a cousin who is librarian for a school district near us. Our daughter loves libraries and rewards her children by taking them to pick out books. So libraries have been a big part of my life. Thank you for the kind words today for all those special people who are librarians.

  22. nebraskannie - March 25, 2021 1:30 pm

    When I was a child I was in bed sick for months. Mom would check out stacks of all kinds of books from the library. Yes, we had no TV (thank goodness-I would have had a case of mush mind). My universe was expanded, I learned to think, learn other opinions, that there WERE other opinions, and most of all be curious. When I was done with that weeks stack, I read the dictionary where I learned parts of words, and meanings and that there was usually MORE that one meaning to a word, which made me think even more. Libraries are miracles!

    • John Skelton - March 25, 2021 2:20 pm

      Mush mind from TV? While I was the advanced reader in my grade school classes, I also learned a lot from tv. Seeing the world from the screen of our metal box filled with glowing tubes taught me a lot about it, while reading all the early science fiction made me dream.

  23. Jan - March 25, 2021 1:41 pm

    I spent the best days of my childhood roaming the aisles of books at the nearest library which was 45 minutes from my small town. My mother would take me each Saturday and I would check out the maximum number of books allowed for a child – 10. I would read each book at least twice before the next Saturday would roll around and we could go back to my favorite place. Those books took me all over the world and became a lifeline for a shy child who did not make friends easily.

  24. Don - March 25, 2021 1:43 pm

    Hope you have a great day

  25. Helen De Prima - March 25, 2021 2:16 pm

    My grandmother taught me to read before I ever started first grade and signed a permission slip at the tiny local library for me to check out any book, not just those in the kids’ section. My first job was shelving books at the Crescent Hill branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. I’ve never gotten over the intoxicating smell of aging books in second-hand book stores or the virginal feel of a new book no one has opened before me. I’ve especially grateful to have added my own work for other’s reading pleasure.

  26. Mim - March 25, 2021 2:23 pm

    Library fees helpin’ us keep it real. 🙂 The worst is when your child LOseS their library book and the late fees never quit and finally you have to buy a lost book just to end the mudslide.

  27. Sharon Brock - March 25, 2021 2:38 pm

    This retired archivist has spent her entire life in libraries, got a degree in Library Science, and a much loved career from them. It is a calling because the Almighty knows librarians/archivists don’t get paid enough. I love libraries.

  28. Heidi - March 25, 2021 2:46 pm

    I also was a library kid. Being an only child I could lose myself in a good book for days. They kept me company.
    During this last year our library was closed for a couple of months and then reopened with strict covid rules and boy howdy, was I happy to go!!! I don’t care how many times I have to sanitize my hands or answer the questions….they have been rescuing angels. Thanks to all the librarians that figured it out and let us go again!!!! A lifesaver.

  29. Julie - March 25, 2021 3:12 pm

    My dear Mother, an English major, got me hooked on reading at a very young age. She signed me up for our library’s Summer Reading Club every June. As I was approaching my teen years, I became more interested in having a busy social life with my friends. But I owe my love of reading for the past 65+ years to her❣️

  30. DAVID A WILSON - March 25, 2021 3:13 pm

    As you have written above, books are GREAT! if possible we should all read!

  31. Julie - March 25, 2021 3:25 pm

    P.S. Sean, most/many libraries have started to “forgive” overdue fines. It used to be one day a year, but now it’s more the norm to be all year long. Just wanted you to sleep worry-free💤.

  32. Michael Hawke - March 25, 2021 3:31 pm

    I was six when I got my first library card at the Carnegie library in Albany, GA. It’s an art museum now. Still reverent, but somehow not the same. I was watching Jumper on Amazon Prime this week. I saw the main character “teleport” in a moment of looming death. He reappeared in the city library. That scene made a statement to me about his character.

  33. Suzanne Moore - March 25, 2021 3:51 pm

    As a library lady from Boston, GA, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this endorsement. Coming from you, it means a great deal to me. We have your books in our library, and I recommend your books and your blog every day. I will print this entry and post it in our library. I consider it better than the old Good Housekeeping deal of approval!

  34. Linda Moon - March 25, 2021 4:29 pm

    You described me in the title. I’m one of those people and a former children’s librarian, too. You and your mother would’ve been welcome to my haven. You paid homage to some beautiful people today. And I have no doubt you’ll eventually pay the overdue fines!

  35. Barbara J Schweck - March 25, 2021 4:35 pm

    My family went ever other Friday evening to the Uncle Remus Library in Atlanta. My mother introduced me to the librarian who then introduced me to the whole wide world of books. I absolutely love American historical novels and I owe it all to her. Living in the South with no air conditioning, my mom had us stay in the house from 12-2. Lunch and then lying down to read our books. So many precious memories!! I have a Kendall, but rarely use it. I need to feel that book, smell it and mark all in it. Hope we never lose the real thing!

  36. MAM - March 25, 2021 4:36 pm

    Lovely, lovely libraries! I’m with Heidi. As an only child, books provided many of my adventures and encouraged my dreams. Nancy Drew took me on many an adventure, and I was right there beside her in my mind.

  37. tamrags - March 25, 2021 4:45 pm

    As a retired librarian/“school media specialist” I loved and understood today’s essay! Much to my husbands distress I still have 15 feet of 8 foot high bookcases over flowing with books. He thinks it’s a visual overload—too messy—and occasionally threatens to build cabinet doors to hide it all. Then I thin out a car load of books and start over. To me it looks cozy, warm, homey and comfortable. You get it, Sean.

  38. Edith Eubanks - March 25, 2021 5:53 pm

    I had just gotten the “Libby” app from our library right before everything went crazy last March. I 💕this app that allows me to check out books from the library electronically to my phone or tablet. It has been awonderful salvation during this time. Edith in Winston Salem NC

  39. Judy - March 25, 2021 8:49 pm

    I don’t remember getting my first library card, but I remember browsing in the kids section, my junior high library where I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder and the public library when I got to check out adult books and no one questioned whether I was old enough or not. Then the most amazing day came when I was hired to be the director of our local public library! My dream job for almost 18 years. I loved the boys and girls, the babies, story hours, farmers who came in with manure on their boots wanting the newest crime novels. I loved the teens waiting for a computer and hanging out with their friends. I loved sharing my new favorite authors to everyone who wanted a suggestion for a new book. Mostly I loved getting to browse my own collection! Thanks so much for the librarians out there that encourage the love of reading to all of us.

  40. Gloria Knight - March 25, 2021 11:44 pm

    Last year I was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. Then came the pandemic, so i haven’t been away from home very much during all that. Our local library closed but would put requested books outside on a bench to be picked up. This has been my saving grace, having books to read and fill the hours I ordinarily would be out & about.My hometown in South GA had a small library & the librarian(Miss Wessie) knew every child’s name. My Mama & I would drive from the country to town nearly every week during summer for books to read.

  41. Trish Kupiec - March 26, 2021 1:28 am

    I love my library but it’s still closed except for pickup. I would not have survived this pandemic without my kindle but can’t wait to go back to the library.

  42. Sherry Clairday - March 26, 2021 1:51 am

    My mom took a one year old and a 4 year old to the Heights library in Houston, TX. Mom and I walked and she pushed Donna over a mile each way to that library. It was the most precious thing in my entire life. I made sure each of my children had their own library card..
    That’s why when during this pandemic our city of Katy shut its library doors and has not opened back up ut makes me sad. Its almost like having the churches closed. It’s really hard to take. Thanks for your columns.
    A retired teacher.

  43. Lorna Leake - March 26, 2021 11:28 pm

    What great memories. My library is closed now and has been for a year. I get to talk to my friendly librarians when I order books that I then pick up and keep too long. My friend Jimmy, a retired heavy equipment operator, is sevierly dislectic. Sorry my spelling is bad. Yet he reads very slowly and loves books..He did right well and now owns five rental houses because of his common sense and hard work. Lorna

  44. Becky H - March 27, 2021 1:42 am

    In 7th grade, we lived on a main street across from the junior high I attended. I became friends with a girl that lived behind us and she introduced me to the local public library. We walked there together several times, spending hours exploring books, and I’ve been a library person ever since. Years later the whole block I lived on back then was torn down and the new public library was built there. Since I now volunteer at that library, I feel like I’ve come full circle – working at the library in the very place I used to live!

  45. johnallenberry - March 29, 2021 2:54 am

    I appreciate this so much. Particularly the fellow reading in his work truck. The five or so years I spent as a cable guy (long before I got all those letters after my name), every lunch break I’d read some book or other I kept in the glove box or the paper when you could still buy them. Thank heaven for libraries. They make knowledge and thousands of worlds available to everyone.



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