Fasten your seat belts, get a bootini and a cupcake because this is going to be one of those long posts.
I want to take a little side trip from all things panda today, (mostly…except for The Literature of the Panda!) and talk about a book I’m reading. Today’s post is not completely devoid of pandas, since pandas and storytelling go together like, um…cuppycakes and frosting. I’ve been reading: This is What a Librarian Looks Like by Kyle Cassidy.
Now, in the interests of full disclosure, this book is written by another client of my agent Gordon, over at Fuse Literary, and he has been yammering on about it on social media since it’s recent publication. “What’s the big deal?” I thought. “It’s pictures of librarians? Why would I want to read that?”
Oh, but now that I am reading it, I see that it is that and so, so much more. To understand why I think this book is so significant, I need to share a little bit of personal history. I was a library kid. While my family owned some books, most of my reading material came from the public libraries in Pittsburgh, where I grew up. We mostly went to a smallish branch library not too far from home, but sometimes we’d go to the big Carnegie Library over in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. This was one of the grand libraries, that only a robber baron in good standing could provide to the little people of Pittsburgh.
I didn’t have the happiest childhood, and one of the best ways to escape my families dysfunctional dynamics, was to stick my nose in a book and transport myself somewhere else. Anywhere else, by whatever means possible. I can tune out so completely while reading, you can stand in front of me and yell, and I won’t pay any attention. (Trust me, this has been done.) While I also loved to draw, there is no escape from reality like a really good book.
I don’t remember interacting with the librarians, beyond taking my piles of books to the counter and getting them stamped with the due date. I was a very shy child (why are you laughing? I really was) and I can’t imagine I would have started a conversation with an adult on my own initiative. But whoever you were, you librarians in Pittsburgh in the 60’s, you saved my life.
What a Librarian Looks Like does indeed have pictures of librarians from all over the world, but it also has statements about what they do, what they provide in this age of vast amounts of information flying through cyberspace, but also why what they do is so important. The passion they feel for their calling (because it is a calling) comes through in every sentence. The book tells some library history, as well as wonderfully thought provoking essays by writers who also have deep emotional histories with libraries. One of my favorites is by that rock star of the library world, Nancy Pearl, of Seattle Public Library and NPR fame. She is such a rock star that she even has her own action figure. Her essay about wanting to live in her childhood library rang so true. What better fortress to resist the world’s evils than the fortress that is full of the knowledge of all time?
One of the stories that Kyle tells of a librarian’s personal history, moved me so much that I burst out in tears. Really! I think it was the idea that there was something she wanted desperately as a child, that she knew her family could not afford to provide, and she never forgot it. It stayed with her until she became a librarian herself and she found a way to provide this, and fought for the money to make it come true for other children. I want you to read this book for yourself, and find the stories that reach in to your heart. I want you to find the stories that whisper in your ear and say, do you remember this?
I always wanted to be a painter, and I am immensely grateful for all the forces in the universe that allowed me to become one. I didn’t realize at the time, that I also really wanted to tell stories both with my paintings, and now with pandas. Through telling made up stories I hope to share the universal truths that bring our mutual humanity into being and focus.
Libraries are more important than ever. They are at the heart of community, in towns and cities, small and large. Librarians help people make sense of all the vast information that is out there, yammering for our attention. I hope every library in the country brings this book to live in their collection. Thank you Kyle, for thinking about this subject, and for bringing this book into the world.
Panda on (right to your local library!)
Bob T Panda