The year I graduated from college with a degree in secondary education, teaching positions were scarce in my area, so I ended up substitute teaching until I found a permanent position. If you’ve ever “subbed” at the high school level, you know that one of three things happens.
1. You become a pachyderm.
2. You die.
3. You leave the world of education forever.
Ultimately, I joined forces with the rhinos, although I definitely felt the urge to choose door number 3 on many occasions.
It was while subbing, then, that I discovered something about librarians and something about myself.
About librarians, I learned that they are a wonderful and yet rather strange lot. Kind of like teachers, frankly.
About myself, I learned that, for entirely inexplicable reasons, librarians tend to like me.
In the school where I did the bulk of my subbing, I discovered that I was the only substitute teacher that they would allow to take classes to the library. Apparently, things tended to get rather chaotic when most subs took classes there.
By nature, librarians don’t like chaos. They like neat rows of books, respectful whispers, and they adore the Dewey Decimal system.
Frankly, I’m rather impartial to all of these things, but I just went into my classes loving books, loving high schoolers, and wanting both parties to generally get along. So, I circulated continually among the students, trying to keep them engaged and productive.
“I can’t find any books on my subject,” students would say to me, to which I’d respond, “Bet I can. What’s your subject?”
Or sometimes they were given a directive to find a book that matched with a theme or goal of the class.
“I hate reading. I’m never going to find a book I want to read,” they’d moan, to which I’d counter with, “More than likely, you just haven’t found the right book yet. So talk to me about what you like to do.”
I also happened to let slip with one of the librarians that my mother had a graduate degree in Library Science. I’ve never had careless words work so strongly in my favor before or since. Despite the fact that my mother and I have discussed the particulars of her degree with no more frequency than our discussions on transmission repair (that is to say, there have probably been none), it was as if I too became degreed in Library Science merely by birthright. I became the new puppy of the library, the librarians’ best new friend and ally. Any class I was with had free reign of the library. Furthermore, this rapport seemed to carry over to, on a different level of course, librarians at my local public library as well.
I haven’t used this rapport much professionally the last few years, being on the world’s longest maternity leave ever, but I will tell you, it has definitely come in handy on a personal level with three small people generally in tow when I’m library-bound. Last week at my local library, for instance, I faced a library card snafu which took 20 minutes to straighten out. All the small people were with me, and by the end, were running borderline haywire. While in my experience, most librarians aren’t partial to kids who are practically bouncing amid the aisles of books, somehow the librarian at the check-out and I struck up a conversation, and it was as if the small people weren’t even there.
He recommended a children’s book, Ben’s Christmas Carol, by Toby Forward, to me and took great pains to try to locate a copy and reserve it under my name. I picked it up this morning, and, as I expected, it was a book worth the wait and deserving of the recommendation. It is the story of a mouse named Ben, who, like Scrooge, holds a dark view of Christmas. It is not until a ghost mouse takes him on a journey to three different scenes that he realizes the error of his ways and seeks to make amends. In the illustrations, while the mouse’s story is unfolding, above the mice, the story of Scrooge is also unfolding. So, many of the details of the story are in the illustrations.
It was a worthy recommendation. And at the end of our friendly discourse, I walked away with Ben’s Christmas Carol placed on hold for me, a few dozen high-fives, and a key to the library for use during off-hours.
Just call me “The Librarian Whisperer.”