In Praise of Children’s Librarians

When I was a boy, elementary schools did not have libraries. We didn’t know what we were missing because our town had a Carnegie Library.

Oxnard Public Library

Beginning in 1889, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie built homes for books. Eventually his philanthropy erected 2,509 public libraries, two-thirds of which were in the United States. The one in my little California farming community was by far the grandest structure in our town. The stairway on the left led up to the adult library. I was not permitted to pass through those doors. But there was a entry between the two globes on the right that led down into the children’s section, a wondrous basement warren of wall-to-wall shelving filled with adventure, sports, and travel to other continents, planets, and philosophies.

It was in the center of town, facing the plaza park. My father’s clothing store was just three blocks away. It was a time when parents (rightly or wrongly) did not hover over their children 24/7. They asked, “Where are you going?,” and then, satisfied with the response, watched their children walk into the world unescorted.

I would walk south on A Street to Fifth, then right for two blocks…and down those steps and into a book. Sometimes I rode three miles from home on my bike. And left it lying on the library grass…unlocked.

I lived at the Oxnard Public Library. My library card was not only the first piece of identification I ever carried…it was also my passport to the world.

library ears
Q: Why was I tugging on this lad’s ears?
A: It was part of was a writerly explanation of character development. (Yeah, sure…)

Today most elementary schools have libraries. Since the first Cheesie Mack book was released in early 2011, I have visited 218 schools across America and spoken to more than 50,000 students, most often in school libraries. I have been in majestic ones with vaulted roofs and mini-ampitheaters. I have enjoyed the warm cloister of a dark-wood, one-windowed chamber barely larger than a modest living room in a charming old inner-city school. They are all libraries…protectors and promulgators of learning.

Whether the title is Librarian or Media Resource Specialist, the driving force in school libraries is the individual who shepherds the children in and out all day long, suggesting titles, reading aloud, and offering readerly guidance. These educators almost always (my informal survey of 218 schools suggests) have this job because they love books.

yippeeIn 2013, I was honored by four widely separated children’s librarians associations with nominations of Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything for Best Book of the Year. The Illinois School Library Media Association put it on their Bluestem Award list. The South Carolina Association of School Librarians nominated it for their Children’s Book Award. The Children’s Librarians of New Hampshire included it on their Great Stone Face Award list. And in Houston’s huge Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (110,000+ students), the librarians picked Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything for their Horned Toad Tales list.


And I love librarians.

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