Smile, please.

I had many brilliant professors while studying to become a teacher, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

But one professor, a warm and wonderful man with a great sense of humor, is the one who stands books above the rest.  He was an older gentleman with a kind face and a keen wit.  His expertise was Reading Education and he held a position at the School of Education at Boston University.  He loved books.  He loved kids.  He loved teachers.  But what he disliked were children’s librarians.  Most of them, anyway. He had a theory that any kid who hates to read could be traced back to an experience with a librarian in a children’s section.  He even dared his students to challenge his theory, and one at a time we would come back to his class with a story of an impatient librarian who just about hated kids.  This was a Master’s program that I was in, and the students came from all over New England.  This professor had a giant map, and he would stick a pinned flag in yet another location for each story of a temperamental children’s librarian.  It was funny.  But all too true.

I hadn’t thought about this professor in a very long time (I earned my Master’s Degree in Reading way back in 1977).  But today I visited a library with Audrey’s two older guys… and there she was.  The children’s librarian.  The book police.  Sitting.  Reading.  Glasses, of course.  Silent but for the turning of the book pages.

We quietly walked past the living statue to the non-fiction books (anything to do with animals).  There, we went from row to row, we sat on the floor and took many books from the shelves and peeked inside of them.  I made sure the boys were politely quiet… but I could feel the eyes over the top of the glasses over the top of the book.  I am a stickler for putting things back where they belong, though, and I made sure all the books were properly placed.  We ended up with 12 selections and quietly headed to the librarian, where I was quickly told, “Books are checked out upstairs.”

“OK, guys,” I whispered, “let’s head upstairs.”

William, who is 4 years old, was very interested in holding all the books while trying to use the water fountain while asking if he could press the buttons in the elevator.  Alex, who is 3, was very interested in using the bathroom and seeing the fish tank upstairs while telling William that it was his turn to press the buttons in the elevator.  All of this commotion was duly noted.  Believe me.

Once upstairs, I headed to the check out desk while William and Alex were drawn to the beauty of the fish tank.  I could tell immediately that the upstairs check-out lady didn’t like kids any more than the children’s librarian.  She looked at me, then at the kids, then at my library card.  I felt like I had a fake ID and the police were on their way.  Abruptly, she asked, “How long has it been since you’ve used this card?”

I thought for a moment.  “Probably a little while,” I answered.  I couldn’t remember, actually, the last time I had used it.  All this time, William and Alex were having the best time whispering to each other about the fish and the castle and the colored stones and the bubbles…

She eyed me suspiciously and said, “You need a new one.”  She paused, then added, “And it will take at least two minutes.”

Two minutes?  Two minutes?  It was like she had said two days.  Was she trying to get rid of me and the kids?

I smiled and said, “No problem.” There was no way I was going to leave that library without those books.

Well, it did take all of about two minutes for me to get a new card, and about two more in conversation with the boys about the fish.  And soon we were outside in the warm sunshine of summer.

That’s when I remembered my professor and his theory.  Now, I must admit that I have known many of the most friendly, most competent, most helpful, most endearing, most charming, most fun, most wonderful children’s librarians since my time at Boston University… but it did remind me that when they’re bad, they’re bad.

I wonder if that kind old professor is still asking graduate students to take the challenge.  I think I have a couple of new ones!

Smile, please. was last modified: February 9th, 2010 by Sharon Couto
SHOWHIDE Comments (8)
  1. I love your new picture! I had to laugh at this post, because I was at a graduation party the other day, and recognized someone. I turned to my girls and whispered, “It’s the mean library lady!” To which a friend standing nearby heard and said, “I thought that was her.”
    Why do people who so evidently dislike children find jobs which involve children? Did they start out liking them and one day a switch flipped? Or was it a slow fade? A wearing down of their general love for childre? Just some thoughts from my overtaxed brain. I had to let you know we have a grumpy library lady!

  2. It is so true. Our library is about to undergo a renovation and and children see all the commotion and change coming and are curious. When I bothered asking the children’s librarian to explain to us (me and the 2 kiddos) about the construction she glared and rudley pointed to an architectual map on the wall and said, ‘read about it over there’. Thanks curmudgeon, find a new job. Okay, no that I told my story: I love how resourceful and excited some librarians can get when you ask for help.

  3. I love the new picture!
    This is so true. The librarian at our school is AWFUL. She yells at the kids, the teachers, anyone who crosses her path. She closes down the library NINE days before the end of the school year, even though our kids must get reading points for a GPA-counted grade. Oh, and she loathes me so much that she actually trash talks me to the kids, which I find pretty hilarious. But what I don’t find hilarious is how she acts as though it puts her out when a child goes in to get a book. If they are in there several times a week checking out new books, instead of celebrating how much they’re reading, she says they are abusing library privileges and kicks them out! It makes you wonder why these people become librarians if they hate kids so much.

  4. Add me to the list of those who love your new pic…Jane and Audrey’s too!

    This story reminded me of my elementary school librarian. Not because she’s one of the bad but because she was so amazing. She had a tough look to her. Short jet black hair that was perfectly permed. Long pink fingernails at the end of thin wrinkled fingers whose tips were covered in ink from the frequent stamping of books. She loved to read aloud to us and I remember so well sitting at her feet (I always wanted to be on the front row so I could take it all in!) and being comepletely taken with her ability to bring a book to life. As I got older and started to play “school”, I would imitate her the best I could. I can still see the way she held the book open for us to see as she read. Most amazing was the way she seemed to never even need to look at the words because she’d been at this for so long, she knew the words by heart. I recently read a story about her in my hometown newspaper and just like as I read this story, I smiled at the memories. Perhaps she has a great deal to do with my love of books!

  5. Sharon- That is so true! A few months ago, Jack came home from school on library day with “The Life and Times of Grover Cleveland”. (Sidebar: seriously, he is in first grade, I have no idea where he comes from) He proceeded to tell me that the librarian wouldn’t let him take out a book from the non-fiction area because he was only in 1st grade. To which I replied “but that is non-fiction, so how did you get it?” Alas, I was schooled by my 7 year old when he replied, “Mom, you told me you went to college. This is not non-fiction, it is an AUTOBIOGRAPHY!” very funny…..

  6. We called the librarian at my high school “Conan the Librarian” and “Attila with the Bun.” She did just about everything she could to make the library the absolute LAST place any of us wanted to be.

  7. How funny. I’ve never noticed that. (Although I bet I will now!) But it’s sad, really. Anyone who works in a library should LOVE kids. Children should be inspired to learn to love reading, after all!

Smile, please. was last modified: February 9th, 2010 by Sharon Couto