While I’ve talked extensively last year about relationships and humans being the cornerstone of libraries through the lens of libraries as site of participatory culture, I just had two moments here in the library that were poignant reminders of how important those values may be in the life of a library patron.
A mother came by just a few minutes ago to tell me how much she appreciated my letting her daughter, whom I remembered fondly, eat her lunch in the library every day a few years ago. Like many students who are “regulars” in here and prefer to work in here while eating their lunch for the entire lunch period, she came in and enjoyed the library space in her quiet and gracious way. Unless students volunteer to tell me why they might prefer to be in here regularly, I try to not intrude on their privacy and just try to take their requests at face value.
What I didn’t know until today was that the student, who outwardly seemed to be a happy and successful young lady, was being subjected to merciless bullying by her classmates. She eventually transferred away, and I’m happy to report that she has been able to move on with her life in a positive way as she now prepares to head off to college. To have a mother tell you through tears that your simple act of kindness saved her daughter’s life is probably about the most humbling thing you can ever experience. I’m not ashamed to tell you that I shed a few tears of my own when the mother said, “We would not have our daughter if it were not for what you did, and I thank you.”
The second moment that took place was one of my students, who is in the creative writing club I sponsor and who refers to me as the “Red Tape Conquistadora”, coming up to the circulation desk and asking me point-blank, “Are you retiring or running away from here anytime soon?” Given the difficult challenges of this past year and the cuts that lie ahead, I’d be lying if I didn’t say the thought of going elsewhere hadn’t been on my radar, but in light of the support I’m receiving from my new principal who is coming in for the 2012-2013 year, I am returning and am hopeful I can continue doing meaningful work with the students and teachers. Once I had a moment to recover from the surprise that overtook me, I responded, “No, I’m not going anywhere.” He breathed a huge sigh of relief and expressed concern that the sense of community he had built within the club sponsored by me and the library would be gone if I left; this community is important to him because he has a sister coming here in the fall, and he wanted assurance that there would be continuity of this community for her.
I share these moments with you all to remind you how fragile and complicated the lives of those we serve can be and that in the midst of the stress and challenges we all face, we must never lose sight of keeping a nurturing, welcoming, and caring climate in our libraries even as others may marginalize the value of librarians and the role of the library in your community. Never take for granted how something so simple and easy to do–showing compassion–may have more impact on someone than any library services or resources you have to offer. Thank you to these three people—the mother, her daughter, and the young male student—for reminding me that nice DOES matter and that elevating the library as a place of participation and shared ownership has value that cannot be quantified with any kind of reading level, test score, or mathematical data. Let us all continually strive to approach what we do with humility, integrity, empathy, courage, wisdom, and grace.