My Mother the Librarian . . . And How Libraries Have Changed!

February is Library Lovers Month. I come from a family of library lovers, and I am one myself.

boy reading book at the libraryWhen I was a child, we could only check out six books from the library at a time. My mother took my siblings and me to the library almost every week during the summer, and I checked out my six books. I usually read one of them on the drive home (making me carsick, but I couldn’t wait to explore my treasures), and I had all of them read within a couple of days.

Then I started on my brother’s books. I read as many Hardy Boys as Nancy Drew, and Robert Heinlein along with Maud Lovelace. Then I was bored . . . until our next trip to the library.

My mother in her librarian days

My mother in her librarian days

I’ve mentioned before that my mother was a librarian. She didn’t become a librarian until my youngest brother was in school, and she worked at the school that he and my sister attended. I was away at college by that time, so I didn’t really get to see my mother as a librarian.

But I know she was proud of her knowledge of the books and systems in the library. She told me stories about the weekly library periods that each class in the school had and the activities that she devised from them—from finding fun, easy books for the youngest readers, to teaching middle-grade students about the card catalogs and using encyclopedias.

Even mentioning card catalogs and encyclopedias makes me realize how much the world has changed in the last thirty years. Now we go online to a library website, and we can search the entire catalog in seconds, without really knowing what we are looking for. Keywords and search engine optimization are now more important than subject cards—and much faster and easier to use.

Encyclopedias are mostly a thing of the past. I have a 1989 Encyclopedia Britannica set in my family room (both Macropedia and Micropedia), and yearbooks for the set up through 2009. A year after my husband and I finally decided not to continue buying the annual yearbook (we’re out of shelf space), Encyclopedia Britannica halted publication of the yearbooks completely. Perhaps we were their last customer.

In any event, while it is sometimes fun to browse the encyclopedia, Wikipedia is faster, if somewhat less reliable. Google puts more knowledge at our fingertips than the encyclopedia, and stays up to date without an annual purchase.

Yet despite the changes, I still am a strong patron of libraries. I love browsing the shelves in libraries, and I usually come away with something unexpected. Still, I limit my time in libraries now, because of the ease of ebooks.

Most often now, I feed my ebook habit through Overdrive. I have accounts at three public library systems, and I get ebooks through all three. Managing the holds at these three separate systems can be a nightmare—sometimes several books all become available at once. Which to read first?

What has your association been with libraries, past and present?

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  1. Theresa, My father owned a complete set of The Book of Knowledge (1912) when he was young. He gave them to my brother and me when we were little. I loved those books. They were full of great stories, Things to Make and Do, history, poetry, science, and wonderful, old pictures in black and white. ( I’m sure there were punctuation articles, but I must have missed them.) I still have those books. They are worn and well-used, but now and then I check out the adorable Things to Make and Do for my great grandkids. Thanks for reminding me.

    • Beth,
      What a great resource! I seem to remember my grandparents having a single volume (very thick) that purported to contain knowledge on everything. I don’t remember the exact title. I loved skimming through it — always learned something.

  2. What a sweet photo of your mother, Theresa. You look so much like her. I’ve always loved the library. It was one of my favorite places as a child…still is. During the recession many libraries in our area reduced their hours due to budget cuts. Thankfully that’s changing, at least right now. In my next life, I’d love to work in a library.

  3. I still visit my Waldo library, usually to pick up a book I’ve ordered from the main library site. I sooooo appreciate being able to do that. There’s several books on my reader, but I find I don’t go back to them the way I do with hard copy books. I also have learned that e-books aren’t helpful if, as I do, the reader tends to go back and forth through pages. Post-It tabs are so much easier. I do have books on the reader that I listen/read when traveling, but the library? It’s my favorite (we’re running out of shelf space too!).

    • Janet, I agree — it’s so much easier to take notes and refer back to hard copy books. I’m trying to use ebooks sometimes, because they’re more portable and less expensive, but it doesn’t feel as natural as highlighting real pages and tabbing with Post-Its.
      Thanks for reading.

  4. We still have our encyclopedias. Yearbooks were never an addition much valued. The internet is grand, but for some reason, I don’t put as much faith in it and frequently it takes twice as long to find enough corroborating resources to confirm facts.

  5. My mother was a librarian as well. She worked in public libraries, college libraries and, in her last job before retiring, a medical library. She was a cataloger, so the person who looked through the new acquisitions and decided how to identify them according to the Dewey Decimal system, then the Library of Congress system.

    The library (serving the Menninger psychiatric clinic in Topeka) switched over from Dewey to Library of Congress over the course of one summer, and I had a summer job taking an electric eraser to the Dewey numbers on the cards so my mother could type the new identification onto the card.

    As you might guess, it was a pretty boring summer job… until we got to the collection of pornographic books some guy had bequeathed to the library. I only got to look at the cards for the books as I erased off the old numbers but I remember my mother’s extreme distaste at having to look at them to determine a new classification….

    It’s amazing to me to consider that, had they waited just a decade or so, all of that erasing and retyping of cards would never have had to be done.

  6. Theresa I have vivid memories of our weekly visit to the library. The book smell is one of them and trying to read as many books as I could, to see which ones I wanted to take home with me. I also dreamed of being a librarian just so I could be near all those wonderful books. Thanks for bringing back such sweet bookwormy memories for me.

  7. Pingback: Stories I Couldn’t Tell Before: I Don’t Know How You Do It | Story & History

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