Both Sides Now-Library Loving Librarian
John Clark on Library Love. I grew up in a small Maine town where the library was open for a few hours on Friday afternoon. Sister Kate and I burned through age appropriate books very quickly. She became the librarian’s assistant and started on adult fiction very quickly, while I went toward science fiction and fantasy.
Fast forward to my thirties when I returned to avid reading, this time mysteries. I loved Tony Hillerman, James Lee Burke, John D. MacDonald, Ross MacDonald and Robert Parker. When the librarian at the Augusta Mental Health Institute retired, I made a rash offer to the assistant superintendent: “Let me take over the library and I’ll revamp and modernize it. Little did I know it was the smartest move I could have made.
I was smart enough to know what I didn’t know (the librarian’s best tool) and reached out for help. People in both the medical and public library sectors in Maine took me under their wing and I was off. When the University of South Carolina offered their MLIS program onsite in Maine, I signed up.
As a medical librarian I learned some valuable skills that also translated to my career later on as a public librarian. Listen carefully and keep asking questions until your patron tells you what they really want. Don’t waste their time. Remember who liked books by a particular author and buy the next one so you can hold it up the next time they come to the library. Let patrons talk and listen respectfully because libraries are one of the few places where someone can go and talk without having to reach for their wallet. In fact, given the opportunity, patrons will tell a librarian stuff they won’t tell their minister, doctor, lawyer, or spouse. (Great fodder for use in fiction when you’re an author.)
My career went from the mental health library field to managing the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library, serving as a software systems specialist at the Maine State Library (managing Innovative Interfaces products in close to 100 Maine libraries), to being the entire staff at the Hartland Public Library.
When I worked in the public library sector, I loved discovering new authors whose books I felt would appeal to certain patrons. In Hartland, I used my love of young adult books to build a terrific collection and the best part of that was the amazing conversations I had with my teen patrons. There’s nothing like the look you get from a young adult when you check out a book and tell them you read it the month before.
After I retired, we moved to Waterville where even during COVID, I could go online and request books, then pick them up in the library lobby. I can even place holds on YA books while they’re still being processed by the cataloging staff an any of a hundred Maine libraries. I have a TBA list that runs 40 pages. I’ll never get to them all, but it will be fun trying.
Maine is a big state, but has one of the best library systems in terms of cooperation, resource sharing and creativity. We also have a great collection of online databases funded by the Maine State Library and the University system, as well as a statewide interlibrary delivery service subsidized by taxpayers. Want creative? You can borrow pruning poles here in Waterville to help cut down Browntail moth nests, other libraries loan telescopes, ice skates and fishing gear.
Another giveback I do is sharing book reviews of outstanding YA fiction on the Maine Library listserv that has more than 1500 subscribers.