It’s no secret that public libraries offer more than books, computer access, and whatever publications we need to stay abreast of vegan recipes, medical research, quilting techniques, vacation deals, technology innovations, fly fishing secrets, and so forth.
A library serves as a refuge from all of the chaos out there. It’s a place of tranquility.
Once inside, we tune out distractions with the greatest Shakespeare or the latest Springsteen. Libraries are gold mines of information—facts and fiction–from all corners of the globe. (What do you mean globes don’t have corners!)
In my lifetime of experience with libraries, none of that essential stuff—books, computers, tranquility—holds a candle to the librarians themselves. Without these experts, a library is nothing but a chilly warehouse of essential stuff that nobody else knows how to find.
Long ago, I took a subway to Fifth Avenue and East 41st Street, intent on becoming just one more famous writer in New York City.
I climbed steps between two stone lions and passed marble columns into what appeared to be a museum. Nope. The revered New York Public Library drew more than 30,000 visitors on its first day of operations in 1911. There must’ve been a whole lot of sshhhh-ing going on that day.
Once inside, I hunted down a special collections’ librarian. She was unfazed to learn that I wasn’t there for a famous manuscript. I explained my interest in a piece of furniture instead.
“Let me guess,” she said. “Dickens’ writing table.”
She obviously noticed her library’s copy of A Tale of Two Cities in my hand, then led me into another room. Voila!
If only I could touch this tiny table, who knows what Great American Novel might emerge from me someday. She didn’t laugh as my fingers rubbed polished mahogany. Time to go.
She wished me good luck, just being nice (which all librarians are trained to do) but nobody’d ever done to me before.
If Dickens actually wrote the likes of A Tale of Two Cities on that tiny table, I would have no excuse for failure. After all, my fingerprints were left upon an artifact of literary greatness, possibly overlapping his very own fingerprints.
I returned to my apartment in Brooklyn confident that the old typewriter on my plywood desk was now an instrument for fame, if not fortune. However, it produced nothing but schlock, the sort that no editor in her right mind would publish. Rejection slips poured in from magazines, making it clear my typewriter wasn’t entirely at fault.
Undeterred, I typed relentlessly. Day after night after day, the light at the end of a proverbial tunnel finally lit up. Time for a dose of reality. I became an award-winning journalist, typing stories based on fact, not my imagination.
I’m indebted to that librarian in New York City. She let me touch Dickens’ table (probably violating library rules) and never once laughed at that young kid. The rest is history. Mine.