In Praise of Librarians

As we extol Christian virtues, we sometimes miss their embodiments all around us. My personal nomination for Patrons of Patience are those who work at airport gates. They’re deluged with an acid rain of complaints when circumstances they don’t control—storms in Singapore? Mechanical difficulties in Denpesar?–mean a delayed or cancelled flight.  Yet they remain professional, calm and sometimes surprisingly cheerful, working out complex alternatives for fuming and ungrateful passengers.

Librarians are high on the list of unsung saints. In many places, they are among the newcomers’ first personal encounters with North American culture. At some libraries, they list on their nametags the languages they speak: often an astonishing array including Farsi, Russian, Cantonese. During a storytime for toddlers, the librarian taught “Eensy Weensy Spider” with gestures, and the moms in burkas were delightedly learning as much as their children.

Furthermore, they are courteous and understanding with the computer-challenged; they answer the same stupid questions repeatedly; they open the treasure house of literature, beauty and information to those who starve for its riches. With ignorance, sloppiness and noise surging around them, they remember why they’re there: to share and safeguard a treasure.

Some say the digital age will mean the demise of the library; some cities are cutting their budgets. But even more reason for them to serve those who don’t have computers, magazines, newspapers or books at home. They anchor every neighborhood  from Palo Alto to Podunk. Many people have written about the joy of loading up a wagon or bike basket with books, then heading home with the anticipation of a great read. Our next superb novelist or scientist may now be tightly holding a parent’s, grandparent’s or caregiver’s hand, putting the first pudgy foot inside a library door. And what a magnificent realm awaits!

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