Up until the year 2000, like most people, I never really gave much thought to what a librarian actually does. Back then I was an information architect for a small start-up company in Silicon Valley. I attended a conference on information architecture in Boston that year that I learned how much I didn’t know about librarians.
The conference was, for the most part, split into two camps: the tech nerds like me who worked for internet companies and librarians. What I learned at that conference was I’d spent the last to year learning everything I could about how information worked and thinking I was on the bleeding edge and every last bit of it was old hat to librarians. These pros had been at this for a long time (centuries if you think about it) and looked at all of us “kids” in the booming Internet world as kind of an annoyance. I don’t blame them. We thought we had invented the wheel when the librarians were racing around in Ferraris.
So several years later, when I got the idea for The Moment of Everything, I started writing about a character who was disenchanted with the high tech world and fell in love with a bookstore. I remembered that conference and how it made me appreciate all those librarians and what I was able to learn from them. I’d been in awe of people in the field every since. So I gave that awe to my character Maggie. Here’s an excerpt from The Moment of Everything, my love letter to librarians everywhere:
When I was eight, my mother was horrified when I told her I wanted to be a librarian. I could see how she pictured me, a matronly stack-dweller with comfortable shoes and hair in a bun looking over her glasses at people with a dour expression full of contempt for past-due fines. Nothing I said could convince her that her vision was not my future. The librarians I knew were superheroes of data. Like the Old World explorers, they navigated uncharted oceans of information, drawing maps to get anyone anywhere. And they were the keepers of things other people forgot, archiving the incidents of life and piecing them together.
In high school, I’d started volunteering in our town’s library, a small yellow house close to the square. My parents’ house had endless quiet rooms where an only child could hide away with a book, but the quiet of the library quivered with life, those searching for what they needed and wanted. And I could help them find it. I pushed carts of books up and down the aisles, the wheels squeaking under the weight of words. I pounded due date stamps on lined cards I slipped into books’ paper pockets. And after my shift was over, I stayed and crouched on a Kik-Step stool in the distant corner of the Reference section and read books my mother would never have let me bring in the house—Judy Blume’s Forever, Song of Solomon, and lots and lots of historical romances with wind-swept hair and overflowing bodices on the covers.
As an undergrad at the University of South Carolina, I learned from the librarians how to understand what people wanted and how to navigate their way to what they needed. All the skills I needed to land at Internet start-ups, like building content management systems and the interfaces that drove them, I learned in a library. I understood that every pile of information has a pattern, a thread that runs through each nugget. Give it a tug and everything falls into place. “The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,” T. S. Eliot wrote in Four Quartets. “For the pattern is new in every moment.”
So thank you, librarians! You are amazing people and we are all lucky to have you!