Library Stories

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of libraries. Why, I am currently learning to lindyhop—two lessons a week—in order to raise money for the New York Public Library System which is facing $57 million in budget cuts.1

This story of an Uzbekistan immigrant to the US who is now in charge of the Queens Library at Broadway made me teary:

My daughter didn’t know English well; I didn’t know English. I was trying to teach her myself. The library was my life at the time. We took out childrens books to hear that language. We learned 30 words a day. We memorized them, put them on the wall. The next day, another 30 words. After half a year she didn’t need English as a second language anymore. I learned with her. She just graduated from Vassar, Phi Beta Kappa. The library was everything for us. We were in the library every day, me and my husband.

My own library stories are not nearly so dramatic. I remember as a kid the excitement of being taken to the library by my parents and getting to pick out lots of picture books to take home. Much later as a uni student, the library at the University of Sydney, ugly, haunted2 monster that it is, was where I practically lived, studying, finding endless reams of articles, chapters, books and other material for my countless assignments, essays, and, later on, PhD thesis. The excellence of the Sydney Uni Library’s Rare Books departments made my doctoral research possible. Without them my first book, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, would not have happened. My gratitude to all of them, especially Pauline Dickinson, remains huge.

So, yes, librarians and libraries, I love them.

What about youse lot? Do any of you have some library stories to tell? I’d love to hear them.

  1. Lindyhop progress report to be posted soon. []
  2. Don’t go above the fifith floor! []


  1. Megan on #

    my library is pretty awesome.
    so awesome in fact that most of the librarians there know me by name, and when i was doing my major assignment for school last year i left it to the last minute and needed all these business books i’d taken out ages earlier. i went in there, and told one of the librarians who i know best that i was happy [well not happy, but you know!] to pay the over due fines cuz i really needed the books. she asked for my card, and extended all the books, even tho they were a) over due b) on hold for someone else [which makes them not be able to renew] and c) not aloud to renew.
    Love you Kim! 😀

  2. Megan on #


  3. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    In sixth grade a bunch of us used to meet up after school at this candy shop, buy a bunch of candy then smuggle it into the town library with us. We’d do homework and pass around M & M’s and stuff. We thought we were so bad. But all of our homework got done.

  4. Patty on #

    Hehehe! I used to work at Sydney Uni Library while doing my PhD there. Still the best job I think I’ve ever had. The fifth floor? I remember the basement in the stack (in Redfern) with all the pre-1900s books. Great stuff.

  5. simmone on #

    I entered the short story competition at me old Ringwood library faithfully every year from the age of ten … but did not win. I also had lots of ‘library romance’ fantasies, like I would meet a cute mysterious boy as we both reached for the Alasteir Crowley … that kind of thing…

  6. Julia Rios on #

    As a kid, I remember going with my mother to pick out picture books. I could choose 8 at a time, and it always felt like I had won the lottery.

    As an adult, my library has a beautiful reading room, nice librarians, and a great selection of books. I tend to spend a lot of time there.

  7. Beth on #

    I am a librarian and I was able to recommend your book “How to Ditch Your Fairy” to a mother who was looking for a book to give to her daughter. I told her how funny it was and I wouldn’t be surprised if she read it also. Unfortunately for her, the book was checked out but that means someone else is reading it!

  8. Phiala on #


    I was kicked out of the high school library for spending too much time there. Quietly, reading. By the librarian.

    A woman was murdered in the stacks at my current university library. Decades ago, but still.

    My grandfather used to bring me a weekly stack of books from his big-city library because my small-town library was small, and far away. I particularly remember the big Tintin books.

    The public librarian in our previous city cried when we told her we were moving. I miss that library.

    I’ve always spent oodles of time in libraries, except in high school. Books! On all kinds of things that I would never run into otherwise!

  9. Liset on #

    ah yes, i have a library story as well.
    I started college at SFSU in 2007 incredibly excited to live in the library, only to find the ugliest and most un-library looking place in the world. But even so, I loved it, and then when I came back for my second year the library was closed down!!! Thus the end of my sad sad library story.

  10. Hillary! on #

    Mine isn’t all that exciting. I was sitting in the teen section trying to figure out how many books I’d read for the year of 2007. On my way to sit down I’d stopped at the new arrivals section and noticed Tantalize. It looked yummy, so I decided I’d check it out. So, I’m sitting there, recording all the books I’d read that year and how I liked them and how long it took me to read them when all of a sudden this tall, statuesque, lady swoops down on me from nowhere and started squeeing about Tantalize, interrogating me about where I had gotten it, was I gonna check it out, she swears she’d been looking for it earlier but couln’t find it. So I finally said, ‘If you want it that bad you can take it.’ She started to refuse but I insisted, so she took it. Thus started my relationship with the new YA librarian at my public library. We even went to BEA together in 2008.

  11. Harry Connolly on #

    We had a small library in the little borough where I grew up, and I always felt like an intruder–the librarians treated me like a poor relation come to live in their house and eat up all their stew.

    They even had a timer on the light in the little bathroom. If you took too long, the room went dark.

    Now I live in Seattle, and our public library system is fantastic. My son has been a voracious reader at times, and he would have driven us into bankruptcy without it. I’m tremendously grateful for the library system and the kindness of the people working there.

  12. Miss Tammy on #

    When I was a kid my aunt, who did not drive, watched me while my parents worked. There was very little to do in our tiny, tiny little town and the highlight of the month was when the bookmobile would come. The bookmobile librarian was great. She put aside books that she knew that I would like and kept me reading. Years later I found myself stuck in a dead-end job after throwing my advertising degree in the trash (I decided I liked my soul and wanted to keep it). I was perusing the shelves of the local library when my childhood bookmobile librarian, who was now the manager of the entire library system, offered me a job. It literally changed my life. I now how the most satisfying job on the planet and am working on my MLIS.

  13. bookwormchris on #

    Lets see…

    The earliest library experiences I can really remember involve my Elementary School library. (Library/Media Center) It was there that I learned to read better. It was there that I read tons of science books. With the YMCA program, I pretty much spent every school day in the library before and after school for some amount of time.

    In middle school, I would often visit the library before school and especially after school. It was only open for about an hour after school ended, but that was an hour to read or do homework before making the trek to my mom’s (old) work. I came to know the librarian and assistant librarian very well. I joined the Library Club and Book Club. I even got to check out more books than the limit (5 iirc) over the weekend if I returned them on Monday. We had lunch with a few authors there and even went on a trip (Library Club) to an independent children’s bookstore for author readings and signings. (Sadly said bookstore does not exist anymore.) My reading was mostly fiction as the librarian noted when she signed my yearbook. (I was introduced to The Wheel of Time, among other science fiction and fantasy series at this time.)

    During high school I usually spent time after school in the library, either tutoring people, working on homework, or reading. Sometimes before school too. (Common theme?) Mostly I checked out science fiction from that library (lots of Card). During (elementary school also) middle school and high school I also used the public library. Almost always the newer Carlsbad branch library, but not always. Even though that is quite far from our house and even further from my high school, it was also the biggest library (and the newest) around. I actually have cards that let me access most of the library branches in San Diego County.

    Now at UCLA, I’m generally in one of the libraries for at least a bit every day I’m on campus. I don’t know all of their secrets yet, but I know a decent number of them. (All great libraries tend to have secrets, or I’ll generalize that anyways.) I’ve visited the Special Collections Department to read some books. Mostly YA, actually. Plus a bit of old science fiction. Apparently they have more SF books that came in recently. I also entered into a book collection competition this year and managed to win a prize. Nice reception in the Special Collections Department a few weeks ago where I got to meet lots of the library staff and have some interesting conversations. I think it is safe to say that libraries (and librarians) have been important to me for most of my life thus far.

  14. Holly on #

    When I was a teen I worked in my local library putting the books away… It sounds really boring, but myself and my best friend (whom I met on the job) came up with some great ways of entertaining each other.

    We both ended up there for different reasons, I was struggleing to get a job because of my Erlens, which is where the letters in words dance, but it can be fixed with colour overlays. She was there because she struggled holding down a job because she had mental problems; she thought things were happening that weren’t.

    The games we played were silly really…

    We used to play spot the difference, where we’d put a book in the wrong place and then have the other person spot which one it was.

    When our carts were empty we used to have book cart racing in the newspaper section, which was a little out of the way.

    We also used to have a crude game called “what’s that smell?” whereby we would smell something and work out where it came from. One morning we totally embarassed a gentleman by finding him the cause of an awful stink! Poor guy… but if you stand around looking guilty…

    We also used to do silly things with the childrens book… but I can’t remember exactly what we did now. It was a great laugh, and I met someone who will always be there for me and vice versa.

    One day some kids came in and played a silly game called “Boggies” from a TV programme, where one person says “boggies” and then the other person has to say it louder and louder and louder! Needless to say they got kicked out it was hilarious!

    I miss those days…

  15. Rachel on #

    When I was a little kid my library had a rule that you could only get a library card once you were five years old. The first thing I did on my fifth birthday? Headed straight down to the library and signed my name. I still have the card, although I no longer live there.

  16. Natasha A. on #

    I’ve been working in one library or another since I was 15. I used to love working in my public library because it was nice and small. You got to know all the patrons. AND I got to sneak the new books home to read before they were put out on the shelves.
    Right now I am working in an academic library, and going to school to become, eventually, a librarian.
    Libraries are my life. It’s as simple as that.

  17. Katy Cooper on #

    One of my most vivid memories is of the library on Hickam AFB in Hawaii — I can still picture where the English history was, and the Hawaiian history collection. I can remember struggling, struggling, struggling on the ride home, because I had checked out more books than I could reasonably carry on my bike.

    I work five minutes from the main branch of the Boston Public Library and I absolutely consider that one of my job’s benefits. A few years ago, I got to take a tour, and one of the highlights was seeing one of John Adams’s books with his annotations in the margins–his library was the germ of the Boston Public Library.

    I love libraries with a pure and fierce passion (but I’m a bibliophile, so what do you expect?)

  18. Sarah on #

    I have very fond memories of all of my school libraries, although working in a bookstore means that I don’t really frequent the local library any more.

    At my first primary school library, I would spend hours talking to the librarian, Ms. Santos, while helping to neaten shelves and reading my way through as many books as I could. Every time I left the library, it was with a warning to “get your nose out of that book, or you’re going to walk into things”. My brother was convinced that she hated him, given that he was a loud, disruptive type who didn’t read.

    At my second primary school, though I never signed up to be a library monitor, I spent so much time in the library that I was invited to the library monitor afternoon teas (rewards in which we were stuffed with sweets instead of going to class) regardless, and got let out of class for days at a time to help with stocktake.

    And in high school, I barely knew the librarian, but had the library assistants on my side to the point where they would keep books aside that hadn’t been properly reserved, bought books I was interested in, waive library late fees and knew better than to ask for my library card (which I never had with me), but typed my details in manually, which they didn’t do for most people.

    My pleasant experiences in libraries are one of the reasons I love books so much, which is ultimately the reason I have my bookstore job now. I owe my librarians a lot.

  19. Pauline on #

    It’s good for the soul to be fondly remembered – thanks from all of us. What have you got against floors 6-9?

  20. Justine on #

    Hi, Pauline. Bad things happened above the fifth floor. Very. Bad. Things.

  21. Jude on #

    As a librarian, I’ve visited worked in numerous libraries. I even slept in a library one night when I was working the night shift and my headlights went out. But my favorite library story came from a keynote address by the late Daniel Fader, author of Hooked on Books, who described how he stopped going to school and instead read his way through the library, getting an education which later lead to his career. Listening to him, we laughed, we cried, and we were inspired to be the best librarians we could be. I try (and frequently fail) to make positive connections with everyone who uses my library because you never know when you’re making a difference to someone who might end up being another Daniel Fader.

  22. Lisa H. on #

    I have loved books & libraries my entire life. A couple summers ago I got to take my children back to my first library and that was one of my big joys.

    As a child, my mother would frequently have to take me to both the little library (the one I preferred) & the big one across town (with a “drama” room) in order to keep me in books for the week (each allowed 10 books at once).

    We moved twice while I was in elementary school and both times I found my new home in the library first. I always befriended librarians & helped with shelving. (I envy the tales in comments above about library helpers. I’ve never lived anywhere that allowed that.)

    In high school I didn’t have a lot of time to haunt the library before & after school, but frequently got sent to the library for having finished work before the allotted time was up. I read the entire sci-fi & fantasy section in 3 years.

    Now that I have children of my own, I make sure that they know & love the library. We spend three days a week up there in the summertime and at least one day a week in the school year (the kids all go to schools that have library time as well, so we don’t need to go to the public library as often). My youngest child (age 2.5) asks for the library all the time and can even give you directions there.

  23. Kayla on #

    My library is small and sometimes doesn’t have the book(s) I want. But I love it just the same! My small library is practically my life… where I go when I need to search up something or just a laugh. If I’m down or upset about something, a book always cheers me up. And with my library, I can do that without buying it (plus, we only have one good bookstore in my town, and that’s small, too). For me, life without libraries (or books) would be very boring.

  24. Eric Luper on #

    Well, in case you’re wondering, my donation to the NYPL has already been sent and received. Cant wait to hear the results of the Lindyhop Project!

  25. Tracy on #

    As a child, I was convinced that the library was magical. Having the world at your fingertips, the smell of books, the quiet, the secret corner where you knew nobody was going to find you…ah, the memories! The best though, was going there on a hot summer day. They had air-conditioning!

    Even though my current library is pretty small, I love taking the kids to see their eyes light up at the sight of all those books. I know they feel the magic too.

  26. Heather Tomlinson on #

    The Laguna Beach library once had a workshop where kids could make valentines for their favorite authors. The librarian displayed them for a couple of weeks, as I recall, and then mailed them to the authors in care of their publishers. (pre-internet days!)

    I made a bunch. Five or ten? The librarian, bless her heart, sent them all out, and many suthors responded. What a thrill to get a sailboa card from E. B. White, and a thin blue “air mail” sheet from Astrid Lindgren!

  27. Little Willow on #

    As someone who has frequented libraries since infantdom, volunteered at one for years, still goes to the library once a week (and feeds wild squirrels en route), I am full of library stories. I’ve posted various things at my blog about the library and how grateful I am for it. Here’s one such post – and here’s my blog tag of “library”, which will pull up all of my posts related to la biblioteca. Don’t hesitate to email me if you want even more library stories!

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