Well, there’s the hazy childhood memory of sitting in the back seat of the car in the library parking lot, nestled between what seemed like stacks of books as tall as me on either side. I remember sunlight and the absence of the outer layers I’d have to wear for three quarters of the year (there’s an aphorism about my corner of Central New York, “There are only two seasons: winter and the fourth of July”), so it must have been summer, and those books were probably propelling me through that year’s summer reading contest. My people hail from warmer climes, and both of my parents teach, so that may have something to do with why that sunny, impromptu book fort stands out among my earliest memories.
There’s meeting, as a fresh college grad, with some of the folks who became my longest, closest friends (also in one case, an enemy) to send books to people in prison. For the rest of our time in that building, our space overlapped with a zine library that has since spawned very cool developments in the world of zine cataloguing. Sending books to incarcerated folks was basically long-distance readers’ advisory on a 3-6 month backlog, and it was critical to my decision to pursue Library Science.
And then there are the years I worked in operations for a grassroots homeless member organization, which dovetailed with my first semester at library school. One of my final papers that semester discussed the ways language around homeless patrons had changed from the late 1980s to the early aughts, and the importance of public libraries as “third places,” places outside of work or home where civil society is developed and revitalized. Over time, the professional literature had dropped explanations for the exploding homeless population- Reagan’s deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, longterm under- or un-employment, unaffordable housing, and disappearing social services- and replaced it with references to “problem patrons,” a term that seemed inclusive of, if not interchangeable with, homeless patrons. That final paper synthesized decades of writing from public librarians, as well as years of what I had heard firsthand from homeless folks and organizers- that libraries were invaluable as free and open public space, the physical location as important as the information it housed.
Libraries and their cousins have been a through line in my life, marking my personal, political, intellectual, and professional lives. As a Library Services Associate, those experiences inform everything I do- from stacks maintenance to blog posts and social media.