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!