Thursday, March 31, 2011

For Not All Tears Are An Evil

Today there was a retirement party for a librarian who's been with our system since 1977. She had worked beside or supervised everyone in the room. She was responsible for hiring a lot of us. It was an emotional few hours.

In 1977 I was ten years old. Jimmy Carter was president, and I was starting to pay attention to the news. I saw the original Star Wars for the first time. It lit a fire to experience more stories like that, and for the most part the place to find them was books. I was exploring the school library, absorbing books of fantasy, science fiction, space, science, and the weird. The Caldecott Medal winner that year was Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions, with art by the Dillons. I would see a lot more of their art in the future, but that was one I missed.

One of the gifts our colleague got was a copy of Ashanti to Zulu. Another was a beautiful shadow box made up of notes she had written to different librarians over the years, notes of praise or sympathy or encouragement. She always made time for personal touches like that.

The librarians remembered things about her. How she made wonderful felt board stories. How she conveyed her advice on weeding the collection in the form of a recipe card. How she was tough and had the backs of librarians facing criticism for the presence of this book or that, on a shelf or at a storytime.

At one point talk turned to money being tight, and priorities being different. One of the retired librarians present had been the mentor of the librarian retiring now. She said that things always changed -- and that one day they would change for the better again. There was something in her voice that was even better than hope: the clarity of experience.

Another gift was money the group put together to help our colleague and her husband get a good start on traveling. She said she wanted to see the country, since she mostly saw places on library conference trips. She said they might settle in Vermont, a beautiful place, which incidentally has the largest number of public libraries per capita of anywhere in the U.S. (Now I'd like to visit Vermont too.)

She was asked to make remarks. She said it would have been easier to get the words out in email. But she said she'd never have taken back being a children's librarian. And she said that what it came down to was, "What we do matters."

In 1977, sponging up wonderful crazy books, I had no idea I would someday get to use what I was learning that year, to do something that matters.

"Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil."
-- Gandalf, in Return of the King

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