Sometimes when I go out and speak to kids and adults at schools and other events, I tell them how I became an avid reader and writer at age eight. I did this by reading lots of books, such as The Wizard of Oz, my childhood favorite, and by falling in love with my local library, the source of most of my reading material.
During my childhood days in Athens, Georgia, the Athens Regional Library was housed in the historic Stern House at the corner of Hancock and College Avenue, across from the Athens City Hall and the famous double-barreled cannon. This home was purchased and remodeled into our local library in 1947. I remember the building in the late 1950s and early 1960s as the hub of my reading world. One of the things I can recall most vividly about that building is the smell of books as I walked in. Then there were the sounds those wide wooden stairs made as I climbed them on my way to the second floor where the children's department awaited me. I read all of the books in the children's department in the Athens Regional Library of my childhood and I highly recommend that route to becoming an author.
Later, as an adult with young twins, I rediscovered the Athens Regional Library. It had moved to Dougherty Street by then. Today that building is the home of the Athens Clarke County Building Inspections and Permits Department, where my husband works. The first time I walked into his brick-walled office, I realized that he was working in the former fiction section of the library, an area where I had hung out for years before the library moved to its present location on Baxter Street.
One of the librarians who made a big impression on my children at Athens Regional Library was Jacqueline Elsner, or "Miss Jackie" as she was fondly called during her many years as Children's Librarian there. Jackie is now head of the Oconee County Library, but for many years, starting in 1979, the year my twins were born, she ran the children's department at ARL and was well-known all over Georgia and beyond as a gifted storyteller. Recently, I asked Jackie several questions about libraries. Her answers are below.
DS: In a few words, tell me why you choose librarian as a profession.
JE: I chose librarian as a profession because I really love people and books. Plus I was an English major, with no real job prospects besides waitressing. That's why I got my Masters in Library Science.
DS: What's the best thing about working in a library?
JE: Being around co-workers who love books and have a literate sense of humor, and helping people a lot with reading.
DS: What's the worse thing about working in a library?
JE: Dealing with inappropriate behavior of people as patrons, and as co-workers.
DS: Tell me what you think about the future of books and libraries.
JE: The future of books: the formats will change, but reading and the love of the word, first written, then spoken, will prevail. The future of libraries: we'll just have to morph with the times and the formats. And the lousy, inadequate funding.
I couldn't agree more with Jackie. And for the sake of future readers and writers, I hope she's right about libraries morphing and prevailing. We need libraries and librarians to nurture children and adults in this rapidly changing world we live in today. So by all means, appreciate your local library and the librarians there, and don't forget to urge your local and state government officials to fund these literary havens. Our future readers and writers are depending on you.