The Librarian

“We’re so excited for you,” she said, holding a copy of my book.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—I am in town for the American Library Association’s annual conference. Imagine: fifty gazillion librarians, mostly women, wearing tennis shoes, pearls, and smiles.

Did I say fifty gazillion? Let’s make it five hundred gazillion.

I met an old woman from Kansas. She is a librarian in a small town of two hundred. I met a librarian from Martha’s Vineyard, one from Key West, a few from Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Lexington, Las Vegas, Sheboygan.

I met a guy from Morgantown, West Virginia, the hometown of Don Knotts. I met a woman from Andy Griffith’s hometown, in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

It was a busy day. I shook hands, hugged necks, and in a few cases, kissed librarians from every state in the U.S., including Alaska, and Hawaii.

Also, some from Shanghai, Puerto Rico, Iran, Montpellier, Moscow, Greenland, Sydney, South Africa, and one from Auburn University.

I have history with librarians. I was a seventh-grader when I dropped out of school, after my father’s suicide. My family’s life went down the toilet.

At some point during my youth, I started visiting the library. And I visited a lot.

The library was a dilapidated building. It smelled like mildew and old paper. It had floor heaters, mouse traps in the corners, and a bathroom not quite big enough to hold a representative of the Lollipop Guild.

The librarian was a slight, elderly woman who wore tennis shoes and pearls. She would often find me wandering the aisles and ask what book I was looking for.

She knew who I was. And she knew about my educational failures.

“I don’t know which book I want,” I would often reply.

One day, she handed me the book Lonesome Dove.

“Do you like cowboys?” she asked.

I shrugged.

“You’ll like this,” she went on. “I’d bet money on it.”

I took it home and read the book in a few weeks. After that, every time I returned to the library, that woman had a stack of books waiting for me.

Sometimes, I would visit twice per week. She would lend me books on every subject. Poetry, fiction, history, science, music, and of course Westerns.

And I read them, if for no other reason than because someone cared enough to give me attention. And attention was at a premium.

Time went on, and eventually I attended community college as an adult. Librarians had a hand in that, too.

Anyway, I met more than a few librarians today. There was an old lady from Maryland, who has been a librarian since Eisenhower was in office.

I met a woman who learned to speak English in a New York library, who now teaches English as a second language in North Dakota. I didn’t even know North Dakota was a real place.

I met a man who defected from Cuba, and later got his dream job, working in education, up in Minnesota.

“Why Minnesota?” I asked.

“Because,” he said, with a heavy accent. “All my life, I grow up wanting to know what snow is like.”

“Well, what do you think?”

“I think I make a big mistake.”

And I met a librarian from the Houston County Public Library in Dothan, Alabama.

“We’re so excited for you,” she said, holding a copy of my book. Then we hugged.

Excited. For me. I almost got misty eyed. I don’t know why. Maybe because I am hormonal right now.

Or maybe it’s because one of my first times engaging in flagrant public speaking was at the Houston County Public Library.

I will never forget that day. I was as nervous as a man climbing a fifty-cent ladder. My wife and I arrived early. I wore a sport coat.

“How do I look?” I kept asking my wife.

“You look fine, relax, you’ll do great.”

But I was anxious. Mainly, because I expected only three or four people to show up, then laugh me out of the library. After all, why would anyone want to hear a drop-out tell stories?

But that afternoon, when the librarian opened the double doors, people came. Soon, the room was standing-room only. I got so nervous that I wanted to puke. I don’t even remember what I talked about.

What I do remember is telling a story about a librarian. The same one I told you. And I still can’t help getting emotional when I think about it.

I suppose life looks more beautiful when you look at it from far off angles. And sometimes it takes decades to get just the right angle. I don’t know.

What I do know is that every bit of my mismatched education, every book I’ve written, every story I have told, and each word you just read, can be traced back to a slight woman in pearls and tennis shoes, who once asked if I liked cowboys. To which the answer is yes.

But not half as much as I love librarians.

Hug a librarian today.

40 comments

  1. JB - June 23, 2019 7:35 am

    Very good story. It would have been even better without the last sentence. It would have had a better punchline.

    Reply
    • Charlotte Robertson - June 24, 2019 5:26 pm

      I like the last sentence; but then, I’m a librarian.

      Reply
  2. Barbara - June 23, 2019 10:25 am

    Perfect in every way. Your appreciation for people and places from your path in life is a rare thing these days. I love how you highlight the often overlooked and make them into heroes. Your viewpoint painted in words is a beautiful thing. “life looks more beautiful when you look at it from far off angles. And sometimes it takes decades to get just the right angle.” Love your stories and you, Sean of the South. ~ Barb of the North

    Reply
  3. Cindy Stringfellow - June 23, 2019 10:44 am

    Miss Seagrave…..the library was the first place I was allowed to go on my own. I remember being so excited when I was allowed to read from the books on the first floor, children’s were downstairs and I had read most of them. For me it was a magical place.

    Reply
  4. Jean - June 23, 2019 10:51 am

    There are angels sent to help us and some wear pearls and work in libraries and schools. I am quite sure you have met many more angels….just as we all have. Look what a good job they did! Big hug!

    Reply
  5. carol0goodson - June 23, 2019 11:00 am

    Thank you for this endorsement of my profession… what you described is what we are aiming for: changing lives, one at a time.

    Reply
  6. Naomi - June 23, 2019 11:15 am

    Sean, I worked in my high school library for the 4 years that I was in high school. In addition to all of the books that I had to read for my other classes, I had to read a book every semester that I volunteered in the school library. Our librarian was a very “uptight” old maid and most of the kids did not like her. However, after I got engaged, I had an engagement party and she was the only teacher from my high school that I invited. When she showed up, my younger brother, who was still in high school, almost chocked. He said, “I can’t believe you invited her”. Many years later, the high school that my stepsons and my daughter went to had a elderly librarian that none of the kids liked and she didn’t like any of the students. She thought that the library was her domain and was not for the students. Anyway, my middle stepson and a couple of his friends got a bucket full of crickets and let them loose in the library. They had to remove all of the books and catch all of the crickets; they never caught the guilty students. I’m glad that you had librarians who actually liked children. You are a lot younger than I am, so maybe librarians have changed since I was in school. Librarians, even more than teachers, have more influence on kids and their love of books.

    Reply
  7. Bill Williams - June 23, 2019 11:39 am

    Thank you for these daily words!! I read you everyday before my quiet time . Your stories put me in the right frame of mind for my soul to commune with my God!
    Thank you
    B Williams
    Fairhope

    Reply
  8. Lucy Long - June 23, 2019 11:44 am

    Thanks Sean! I work in a Library in a public school-I hope the Library will always be somewhere your dreams can begin!

    Reply
  9. Connie Havard Ryland - June 23, 2019 12:05 pm

    I would have loved to be a librarian. My bedroom is lined with bookshelves, double stacked with books. Way back in the ‘60’s when I was a little girl, I worked in the school library because the teachers couldn’t give me enough work. I started at one end of the library and read every book in there by 6th grade. Granted, it was elementary school library so there were probably not many more books than I own now, but the librarian loved me and encouraged me and I began a lifelong love of libraries and books. Now I’m an old lady that still visits the library often. Thank you for the sweet memories this morning.

    Reply
  10. Nancy. Swider - June 23, 2019 12:30 pm

    Thank you from a Midwestern librarian now luckily living in 32456…the target area of Hurricane Michael. Nothing made me happier than turning kids on to reading and loving books….sometimes it takes a while but to me the payoff was enormous! I miss those days and I miss the high school kids. Just so I don’t get rusty my book collection at home is arranged by the Dewey Decimal system…now there’s a man who had an imagination!

    Reply
  11. Robbie Rainer - June 23, 2019 12:54 pm

    Sean,
    I love your daily column. I always leave it with a smile. Mostly happy, although sometimes sad. Anyway, I love your columns.
    My husband loves it too and his birthday is next month. He is very hard to surprise so I was wondering where I could get a copy of your new book and possibly get it autographed. I’m sure this is a long shot but you never know until you ask.
    Thank you for making me smile.

    Reply
  12. Edna B. - June 23, 2019 2:26 pm

    When I was a kid, I think I read every book our branch library had. I still love and read lots of books. So, I guess in a way, a librarian sort of shaped my life too. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  13. Kimberly Ramsey - June 23, 2019 2:41 pm

    I work in a middle school/high school library after 15 years teaching English Literature and Composition in the classroom. Both careers are an amazing way to help children. Thank you for writing this!

    Reply
  14. Dorothy Johnson - June 23, 2019 3:04 pm

    I just spent a couple of days with a librarian friend you’d love—and she would adore you. I’m going to share this post with her. I’m so glad that slight lady in tennis shoes and pearls came into your life and encouraged you to read.

    Reply
  15. BeBlue - June 23, 2019 3:45 pm

    Re: the librarian from Minnesota. Check out the book “Cubanos in Wisconsin” (I got it on Amazon) about a boy who also had a hard stop in his young life when his family fled Cuba as Castro took power. Interesting read and it involves baseball – a 2 fer.

    Reply
  16. Linda Moon - June 23, 2019 4:56 pm

    You met librarians from Knotts’ and Griffith’s home towns….awesome, for lovers of libraries and Barney and Andy! I bet some of those librarians at the conference were wearing Prada tennis shoes to complement those Pearls. LONESOME DOVE is sitting on my bookshelf beside STREETS OF LAREDO. Thanks to a librarian, you have excellent taste in reading. Pearls and perhaps Prada and certainly Cowboys make me want to hug that librarian. But since I can’t, I’ll just give a selfie-hug to me: a former Children’s Librarian.

    Reply
  17. Jones - June 23, 2019 5:00 pm

    👍👍

    Reply
  18. Shelton A. - June 23, 2019 5:01 pm

    If I find one, I’ll hug ’em. Librarians-good ones-know so much and teach so much, as you found out. God bless them…may automation never do away with librarians.

    Reply
    • Sallie - June 23, 2019 6:23 pm

      Love your stories…. yes librarians are their to encourage reading among other responsibilities… my husband was an avid reader, me not so much but I do keep up with the bestsellers. I wish you could come speak this fall @ our library or museum.

      Reply
  19. Joe Patterson - June 23, 2019 5:31 pm

    Thanks again as we age we remember the people who helped us grow into who we are now

    Reply
  20. Charlu Kent - June 23, 2019 6:59 pm

    My mom was a Librarian n gave me the gift of reading. I’m a horse trainer n gave her the gift of riding. One of the libraries she worked in was at Havasupai elementary school. The only ways in or out of Havasupai Canyon are hiking helicopter 🚁 or horse 🐴 back. My mom rode in n out every weekend thru all kinds of weather to give her ‘kids’ the love of reading 💙🐭❤️🐴📚😎

    Reply
  21. Steve Winfield - June 23, 2019 10:46 pm

    My Elementary School was way too small to have a library. The Bookmobile came around 3 times each summer & I always checked out a few. The one I remember is, “The Mouse & The Motorcycle”. Read it many times. I’m 58 with a 9 yr. old stepdaughter now. This is also one of her favs. She found it on her own without my mention. Crazy how things like that come about. Love you. Steve from Shannon.

    Reply
  22. Cathy Wilson Weaver - June 23, 2019 11:35 pm

    Sean,
    I’m a retired school library media specialist (AU grad-War Eagle) and I salute you for the wonderful tribute to the best profession in the universe.

    There is nothing like seeing a child’s eyes light up when you hand them the perfect book. I was fortunate to work in two state school districts who valued school libraries and librarians and gave us access to earmarked funds and the liberty to obtain the best books/materials for our kiddos.

    I was blessed to be a “li-berry girl” for 34 years. God bless them one and all (liberry guys, too).

    (I hope your new book lands on countless library shelves).

    Reply
  23. Gloria Knight - June 24, 2019 12:15 am

    Libraries are very important in everyone’s life. My hometown librarian,Miss Wessie, knew every child’s name who entered the door. Years later a new library was built but it was never the same going there without Miss Wessie. She told stories on the radio every Sat. morning & said ” Everything is wonderful in fairy tale or rhyme, beginning with those magic words “Once upon a time.”

    Reply
  24. Ken Dunn - June 24, 2019 3:11 pm

    I remember my love for books and reading started after the 9th grade. My 9th grade teacher got me a job at The Book and Art Shop in Dothan, Al. Back then we had to buy our school books in Alabama so a young black fellow and I spent all summer unloading trailer loads of school books into a warehouse that was 110 degrees on any given day. Seems like we drank 55 gallons of water a day to stay hydrated. One of the perks of the job was I could take any book home with me, read it, and bring it back. It was like having my own private library. I started with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and averaged a book a day for the summer. Then after school started back I worked afternoons and on Saturday and that helped me have book for school book reports, etc. Still love reading !

    Reply
  25. Rhonda Blanton - June 24, 2019 7:01 pm

    I just recently started following your blog, my cousin shared Dothan on FB and I read it. Another friend commented she loved your blog and followed it, so I found out how to do just that. I’m glad I did.

    Reply
  26. Janet Mary Lee - June 24, 2019 7:15 pm

    Love Love Love libraries and reading!! All the librarians I knew were magnificent people!! Magical!!!

    Reply
  27. Michael Hawke - June 24, 2019 8:19 pm

    I genuinely expect you to be Grand Marshall for the Peanut Festival parade soon.

    Reply
  28. Jack Darnell - June 24, 2019 10:08 pm

    My love for books started when I was about 58 years old. I was on a mission to get something legal done and it would take weeks/months. I picked up a book that would take me 6 months to read and keep me out of trouble. Tom Clancey’s “Executive Orders”. I was floored when I read it in less than a week and I was hooked. BUT my favorite author is Louis L’Amour and cowboys. I also liked Lonesome Dove.
    Since then I have read thousands of books and written eleven (with the help of educated people!)

    Anyway, I didn’t meant to take so much paper, but I did enjoy the post as always.
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  29. Mary Ellen Hall - June 24, 2019 11:07 pm

    BEAUTIFUL SEAN!!!💙

    Reply
  30. Martha Black - July 23, 2019 6:14 am

    I like the last line. If you change anything, when you talk about “dropping out” don’t fail to mention that you never stopped learning and educating yourself. AND that you got over it & “dropped back in”……..
    Thanks for never “dropping in or dropping by” with us. You’re my reward at tgend of tge day, right after my “lay me down prayer.” It helps me relax & dream, in color…….

    Reply
    • Martha Black - July 23, 2019 6:18 am

      “Never failing for “dropping in or dropping by” and excuse my endless “auto correct” battle. I need an edit option……

      Reply
  31. Martha Black - July 23, 2019 6:17 am

    “Never failing for “dropping in or dropping by” and excuse my endless “auto correct” battle. I need an edit option……

    Reply
  32. Ella - July 23, 2019 12:39 pm

    I am sure you didn’t mean the librarians were wearing ONLY tennis shoes, pearls, and smiles, but for a hilarious moment my brain was stuck there! Love you, Sean❤️

    Reply
  33. Robin - July 23, 2019 1:19 pm

    I grew up in the sixties near a little town in the middle of Missouri. We had a post office and a general store. We didn’t have a library building but we had one on wheels. My mom wasn’t much of a driver but she certainly was a reader. In the summer we would load up and take the 5 miles of dirt toad to get on the mobile bus and choose our books for the month. It was air conditioned, unheard of in our neck of the woods. What wonderful memories you brought back of childhood reading.

    Reply
  34. Nancy - July 23, 2019 2:49 pm

    My dad said I was reading before I started school. I read Jane Eyre in 4th grade. I worked in the library when I was in high school and probably read every book they had. If I had all the books I’ve ever bought, I could start my own library! I recently got rid of about 200 books, under duress. Now, I’m reading on Kindle. My daughter and three granddaughters are readers too; the youngest is 8. She’s reading Harry Potter.

    Reply
  35. markreed2 - July 24, 2019 4:11 am

    Sean, my first real job as a 14-15 year old was as a librarian for the Cobb County Library Book Mobile that parked at Belmont Hills Shopping Center in Smyrna, GA. I read just about every book in the Book Mobile…in fact, I read my first James Bond book, Dr. No, and was hooked for life. Anyway, love your writing. You remind me in some ways of my good friend and fraternity brother, Lewis Grizzard. We pledged Sigma Pi at UGA our Freshman year. I had lunch with him (BBQ) a month or so before he died when he told me, uncharacteristically very solemn, that he didn’t think he would make it through his next heart operation. I miss him. He inspired me to start my Blog writing my own stories, basically for my family and friends.Thanks for reminding me of him.

    Reply

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