In Praise of Librarians

I had a tremendous amount of fun last weekend at Bubonicon in my home town, Albuquerque, NM. I met a lot of great people and learned much more about the publishing process. I sat on a panel with two Hugo Award winners – no pressure – and read a chapter of A Witch’s Kitchen before an audience for the first time. People came up to me after that to tell me they’d preordered my book, which completely amazed me.

And one panel reminded me of my origins. Melinda Snodgrass, an extraordinary writer responsible for several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, described her early childhood and how she discovered science fiction through her local library, the Ernie Pyle branch in Albuquerque.

A shiver went down my back. That was my branch! I know the converted home of war journalist Ernie Pyle like the back of my hand, and thinking of it brings back the musty smell of the card catalog. I was nine years old, and I’d pretty much read everything in the children’s section of the library when I came across a new book: Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight.

Yes, that’s an adult book. Someone had mistaken it for one of her juveniles and shelved it in the wrong place. But all I saw was a tantalizingly thick book with a dragon on the cover, so I checked it out and devoured it. When I returned it to the library, the librarian gave me a strange look.

“You read this?” she asked. I nodded. “Did you understand it?” I nodded again. She paused. “Could I speak with your mother?”

I brought my mother over, and they chatted for a moment. Then the librarian turned to me and said, “Come with me.”

She led me into the adult section of the library, reached up to a high shelf, took down a paperback, and handed it to me: The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Sitting in the panel, listening to Melinda Snodgrass, I wondered whether she’d read the same book. I wondered whether the same librarian had placed it in her hands, though there’s at least ten years’ difference in our ages. I wondered again who that librarian had been. I don’t recall her name. I don’t even recall what she looked like. But I owe that librarian an incredible debt of gratitude for guiding me to a lifelong love of fantasy and science fiction and endless possibility.

The next time I visit my local library, I’m going to make a point of thanking the librarian. And I’m going to donate books, not just my book. LOTS of books. Maybe one of them will be someone else’s gateway to the future.