I read this month that Lemony Snicket has partnered with the American Library association to offer a brand new $3,000 Prize for Noble Librarians Faced With Adversity, described by the author as a reward for “a librarian who has faced adversity with integrity and dignity intact… This seems a better way to channel money to librarians than my previous strategy, which was incurring exorbitant late fees.”
I was reminded of the many heroic librarians I have encountered in the past, tirelessly promoting literature as the answer to the questions we asked, and the questions we soon would ask, but hadn’t even thought of yet. What a sad picture it paints that these beautiful book-dwelling creatures are fast becoming an endangered species. My literary life has been punctuated by librarians, the most significant of which could not fail to be Mrs. Westerneng. I could very easily be wrong on the details, but the way I remember it, our relationship had a turbulent start. I asked for a book recommendation one day in Grade 2 and Mrs. Westerneng said, “Mr. Riggall, do you think that I have time to recommend a book to every student that comes into the library?” I quietly toddled away, but she must have had a change of heart, because sure enough on my next visit she had something brand new put aside for me, and the recommendations continued (along with our discussions on each) right through to my graduation into high school. She promised I could come back and visit, and sneak the odd book out, and I always wanted to, but I never did.
The first book Mrs. Westerneng recommended – the very first – was something new that she had heard was making waves overseas, and she thought I might like to try it. There were two in the series at that point, and this was the first. It was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and she could not have known what she was giving me when she scanned it through and passed it over. In reading it I was transported. Immediately I knew that I wanted to be a writer, for I had discovered that magic was real – not in spells, or potions, but in stories.
Books saved me, and Mrs. Westerneng showed me books. I don’t know where I would be now without that day, without that library, and without her to find the book she suspected would mean something to me. I can’t imagine my world without its population of noble librarians. We must cherish them while they are here, because I fear that the day is fast approaching when they won’t be. And I wonder who will save little boys like me when the lights are dim, the shelves are dusty, and the counter at the front of the stacks is empty, save for the little red light on the barcode scanner. Waiting.