I’ve been in love with librarians ever since I could read. They always helped me find any book I wanted, and encouraged me to learn and read more. From grades 5-8, I spent every afternoon after school in the Women’s College Library at Duke University. I still feel more at home in a library than in any other public place. The smell of old books means more to me than the fragrance of almost any food.
When I learned that the New England Library Association meetings would happen just half a mile from my house this year, I was ecstatic for several reasons. My favorite tribe was coming right to my doorstep, and I’d be able to talk with them about my new book, An Address in Amsterdam. This historical novel of a young Jewish woman who joins the resistance was 13 years in the making, with many hours spent in museums, historic sites, archives and, of course, libraries from Amsterdam to Washington and Los Angeles.
Fortunately, my book was published by She Writes Press, an all women’s press which encourages us to help each other. So it was easy to ask who among the sisters wanted to share a table with me at NELA. By the time they came here to Burlington, Vermont, two were old buddies from the Brooklyn Book Festival: Jeanne Blasburg, author of Eden, a family saga set in a Rhode Island beach house; and Laurel Davis Huber, author of The Velveteen Daughter, the untold tale of the writer of the children’s classic and her daughter. Leah Chyten also happily joined us, with her story of the feminine divine in Judaism, Light Radiance Splendor.
For two long but delicious days, my sister authors and I stood and regaled any librarian who would listen with the stories of our books – what they were about, how we came to write them, what programs we offer, and why the books have done well with libraries and book groups. Twice a day, we did a raffle and saw the grins on the faces of the winners as they chose their free books. I distributed bibliographies on the Dutch resistance to the Nazi Occupation, post cards, and information about everything from my talk on “Resistance Then and Now: Learning from the Dutch” to “Anne Frank’s Neighbors: What Did They Do?”
Mostly, though, we chatted with the people who are on the front lines of defense of the written word. Of preventing any book from being banned. Of keeping both children and adults in touch with the freest information in our society. Yes, they also deal in audiobooks and computers and other media. But the foundation is books, and the love of books. It was a joy to reconnect with the librarians who had already invited me to come and talk with their patrons – to hear how people had responded, that they had to order a second copy of the book, that it was engaging younger readers. And I loved talking with the librarians whose devotion to their work goes so above and beyond what anyone will ever be paid for it. It’s a calling, not just a profession.
So much loses its shine or becomes diminished as we learn more about the world and age. I admire librarians just as much as I did as a child, standing by the counter with a pile of books that I’d devour by nightfall. My hat is still off to them, especially now that they are dealing with an increasingly demanding audience, new technologies, homeless people with nowhere else to go, and much more. If anyone can save our country today and keep us all thinking critically, it’s the librarians and their books.