Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Libraries: Still an Author's Best Friend

By Rachael Phillips

I loved my library when I was a child. I even loved its smell. But as an adult, I rarely do research there. Why? Because googling is so easy. And at home, I can work in my ratty bathrobe and fluffy kitty slippers, even if it isn't Beddy-bye Story Hour.

But as most writers know, Mr. Internet is not always our friend. At the risk of sounding as if I learned my ABCs before the Flood, I suggest we continue to take advantage of the incredible library resources, including college libraries, scattered throughout Indiana.

Some of these would intimidate Plato. As I hiked past threatening parking signs to Notre Dame's skyscraper bearing its gigantic "Christ the Teacher" mural (known to football fans as "Touchdown Jesus"), I wondered how I would find the information I needed, hidden somewhere in those millions of books. I could not bring myself to speak to anyone, as even the janitors appeared to be Fulbright Scholars. So I spent half an hour seeking a map and an elevator, finally riding it up to the philosophy/religion department on the fourteenth floor. To my surprpise, I found only a locked door. I rapped on it. Silence. I banged until my fists hurt. Ditto. I'd spent forty-five minutes for nothing? My face must have reflected my feelings. A brave librarian on the elevator down asked if he could help.

"Somebody locked the door to the philosophy/religion department," I griped. "How can I do research if they close off the whole floor?"

"Which floor?"

"The fourteenth."

"The philosophy/religion department is on the thirteenth floor." He eyed me as if I'd uttered blasphemy. "Father Hesburgh lives on the fourteenth."

Librarians spend years in school learning how to help us, yet we don't want to ask a question. Unless we really, really have to go to the bathroom.

After the Hesburgh incident, I decided to speak up. As I feared, the librarians were smarter than I--but they gladly shared their knowledge and expertise. When I was working on a mini-biography of the hymn writer William Cowper, a librarian showed me Notre Dame's special collections. It wasn't until I held an 1803 volume of Cowper's letters in my hands that the musty, dusty writer, who died only a few years before its publication, came alive on my pages.

A librarian at Grace College's Morgan Library, instead of running away screaming at my lack of technical know-how, taught me how to run their microfilm machine. I grew so familiar with Billy Sunday's handwriting and that of other family members that I could distinguish them at a glance. I gained an additional insight: if I ever become famous, I will blowtorch my journals before I let some nosy author dig around in them.

Bottom line: librarians exist to help. We should cultivate their friendship with pleasant hellos and books brought back on time. (However, if we suffer from genetic procrastination disease, adding a chocolate tip to our fines goes a long way.)

Librarians also buy books, usually multiple copies for branch libraries or even entire systems. They recommend their favorites to library readers, who often want to purchase copies of their own. Librarians also enthuse about good reading material to their bookish friends, possibly precipitating more sales. And libraries are always looking for programs for their patrons, often allowing authors to sell their books afterwards.

So what are we waiting for? Shed that bathrobe and those fluffy kitty slippers and come with me to the library. We'll do our research and (ahhh!) smell those books together.


  1. Libraries were my lifeline as a child, and even as a mother of young children. We had little extra money and the library gave us hours of "free" entertainment.

  2. I was talking earlier this morning with a friend about how we loved libraries. I remember my pre-school librarian who read at story hours as if I'd been with her yesterday. I make friends with every librarian who comes through our branch here in Fish Lake. I live a quarter mile away so I can walk or bike down for a fifteen minute break. This is the life! They've supplied research for me and one even did a full manuscript edit for me. I love my librarians and treat them well. In return, they surprised me by hosting a reception for me this coming Thursday as the La Porte County Poet Laureate. I always thought working among all those books was kind of magical, maybe that helps make them such wonderful people.I thank God that Farenheit 451 never was a reality.

  3. Yay for librarians!

    Sharon: I took my little ones to the library a lot, too. Free books, puzzles, cassettes--what more could a young mother ask for?

    Mary: May you enjoy the book magic at your party with those wonderful people!

  4. Loved this post, Rachael. Am CONSTANTLY meeting librarians at book signings! And they buy books!

    It was such a blessing to meet you at ACFW...and to have your book in my TBR stack (a huge stack, but hopefully it will be reached by Christmas!!!)

  5. What would we all do without those incredible book people?

    Thanks, Patti. It was wonderful to connect with you, too! Wish we could do it more often, but thank heaven for the Internet! I hope Door County Christmas gives you grins when the holiday season gets crazy.

    Or am I the only one who experiences that each and every year?