Despite GoogleTM, librarians are still angels
By Tom Poland
Non-textbooks got our attention, and grammar school trips to the library always perked us up. We’d form a line and head to the library where a wonderful librarian, Miss Sarah, read to us and taught us the Dewey Decimal System. I can see her smiling now. She’d pull up a chair as we gathered around and tell us about the books she was about to read to us. After her readings, I’d go from section to section reading the titles of books and looking at the strange numbers in white ink upon their spines. Some of you will recall the card catalog and how you located books. The system is a sort of methodical, if primitive, GoogleTM. Numbers 800 to 899 cover literature. Numbers 200 to 299 cover religion and so forth. Decimal points after the main number direct you to the sub-section you’re seeking. The letters following the decimal points come from the author’s name or book’s title. Books are shelved in alphabetical order. It works pretty well. And I’ll say this about GoogleTM. It’s fast and comprehensive but you don’t get that familiar fragrance of paper and ink. And GoogleTM comes with no smiling librarian. All these memories of libraries and librarians came back to me a good while back when I stumbled across an old card catalog in an antique shop. Remember those long drawers stuffed with cards? Today computers guide you to what you seek. When GoogleTM made the scene a lot of doomsday prophets predicted the death of libraries. Who needs a library anymore? Find whatever you want from your home or office. Not so fast. The libraries and librarians adapted to the new ways and going to the library is more productive than ever. I speak at a lot of libraries about my books and back-road adventures. I go too to hear other authors discuss their work. You can GoogleTM a book while in a library, then mosey over to a shelf and hold said book in your hand, but we still need librarians for their insight and assistance in accessing a myriad of resources. Librarians. What angels. What great help they have long provided. July 1, two ladies and I made a back-road trek into western South Carolina. Near Willington, we searched for the site of Willington Academy. Dr. Moses Waddell’s Willington Academy, a log-constructed classical school for boys, was perhaps antebellum South Carolina’s most prestigious preparatory school. We left a back road for another back road and left it for a dirt road. Near the Willington Academy marker was a cemetery, and there I came across the grave of a librarian. Devilish fire ants had put up a mound right by the lady’s marker and their hill of mud had obscured much of the engraving. Ms. Ryan was born in 1900 and died in 2002. What changes and history she witnessed. And imagine the students she helped through tumultuous times. On her librarian’s grave were these words. “There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away nor any Coursers like a Page of prancing Poetry.” — E.D. The initials stand for the author, Emily Dickinson. The entire poem reads: “There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away / Nor any Coursers like a Page / Of prancing Poetry / This Traverse may the poorest take / Without oppress of Toll / How frugal is the Chariot / That bears the Human Soul.” Back when I saw that old card catalog I made a mental note to write about librarians someday. Seeing the librarian’s grave gave me the push I needed. Librarians hold the key to knowledge and we owe librarians, past, present, and future, a huge thank you. Visit your local library soon. You’ll be glad you did.