In 2011 I was the Teen Librarian in a public library in Nova Scotia, Canada. That same year, the library was poised to celebrate its 10th birthday.
I had recently read an article about a librarian who had written to authors in 1971 asking them to write to the children of her library and explain why reading is important.
I decided to steal that idea and write to as many authors as I could, asking them if they’d write me back to wish our library a happy birthday and tell the teens in our area why libraries are so important.
I wrote to well over 100 authors, each author received a self-addressed stamped envelope to return their letters. Some decided to simply email me back which was fine with me.
I received close to 50 responses which was way more than I expected. A couple of my favourites are the interacting colouring page given to us by Tao Nyeu, author of the wonderfully trippy Wonder Bear and other great stories for younger children and of course from Alan Moore, the dark wizard behind Watchmen and other amazing graphic novels.
In 2013 I left Canada and became a high school librarian in south London, UK. I thought the letters had been lost in transit but I recently tracked them down.
I won’t include every authors’ letter, instead I’ve picked some of the highlights from many of the letters.
I hope you enjoy them, they still mean a lot to me today!
“It was a librarian who took the time to listen to me when I started having trouble reading in school. She guided me to books that showed me reading could be fun. Without my local library, it’s safe to say there’d be no books by Meg Cabot, so do everything you can to support your local libraries!”
“I cannot count how many hours I spent in my local library feeling free. Free to learn anything I wanted to learn, free from noise and intrusion, free to be still and curious. Every single time I read a book there I added something to my life, something I was free to choose.”
“There’s never been a better time to go to the library. No matter who easy it gets to look stuff up, it doesn’t get any easier to ‘know what to look up.’ This is what librarians are *for* – navigating the vast, bottomless ocean of information, junk, spam, crap and weirdness.”
“Some of the best moments in my life have been spent prowling the shelves in libraries all over this country. I moved a lot when I was a kid and in every new town we moved to the library became my first best friend. I think I learned more at the library than I ever did at school. Thank God for libraries.”
“Books saved me. At each new school I was an oddball with home-permed hair, glasses and a name that would make any bully think he or she had won the lottery: Kirby Miltenberger. I soon learned that, no matter where I went, I could quickly find a friend in the school library, between the pages of a book. I still could not survive without a library…as a writer of historical fiction I consider my library a tool of the trade – in short, I love libraries and I hope you do, too.”
“Books changed my life. They opened doors to faraway places and made me dream bigger and in fantastical ways about sea adventures and ‘wrinkles in time’ and forests crowded with wild things. If you keep a place for books in your life you can go ANYWHERE!”
“I have always loved to read. One summer vacation when I was still in school I read over 200 books. I still read lots and lots of different books. Reading allows you to travel the world and discover many different people and places. When I found the library I found the world!”
“As far as I’m concerned public libraries are one of the greatest achievements of human civilization. It’s a very simple truth that the more you read, the more interesting the world becomes. Waiting at the library, between the covers of all these books, is an endless supply of adventures and experiences and ideas. A book is pretty much the best thing there is, and at the library, it’s free.”
“My fondest memory of childhood takes place in a library. My mother would drop me off at the county library and I would wander downstairs, where the best books were: science fiction, fantasy, YA and paranormal. I would pull out as many books as I could carry and read until my mother eventually found me and drug me home. Libraries are among the most important inventions of the modern world. They are a glorious symbol of the unity of information; they bring us closer together, and closer to knowledge.
A colouring page for the children of the library that Tao asked me to photocopy and hand out during the birthday celebration!
“The job that libraries do seems increasingly miraculous in the modern world – to be able to have access, for free, to anything published anywhere in the world is truly incredible.”
“I wrote most of my novel at my public library and it’s also where I meet with my writing group. The library is a great place to escape and discover fascinating characters and stories. Keep reading!”
Francisco X. Stork
“I like to think of libraries and books as places where we go with our questions. Those tough questions, the ones for which we have no easy answers, are the very ones we need to be asking. Libraries and books are not only full of answers to many of our questions but they are also the places where the important questions are kept alive. I hope that the library will fill your mind and heart with wonderful and mysterious questions.”
“When I was five years old, the headmistress of my primary school introduced all of the first-year children to the concept of the town library. At the time, this sounded to me as if it were a magical, mythical place that was nearly as unlikely as Fairyland: a place where you weren’t charged any money for this incredible service. I joined the town library immediately, and for the next ten years I would probably be borrowing two or three books a week, cramming my mind full of all the wonderful ideas and stories that I’d never previously had access to.
At the age of forty, I made the somewhat unusual decision to become a practicing occultist and to take up a serious study of what previous human cultures have meant by the word ‘magic’. To my initial surprise, I discovered that practical magic is almost entirely a matter of the manipulation of language. As the famous occult practitioner Aleister Crowley once observed, there is not much of magic that doesn’t just simply involve reading or writing. It seems to me that I’d thought of as the magical atmosphere in the town library when I was a five year old child, ploughing through books about witches or warlocks, was actually the genuine secret heart of real magic all along.
I still sometimes dream about libraries, wandering through stacks of fascinating tomes that you can never read because the words won’t stay still upon the pages, and I can only assume that’s because of the huge importance that these temples of fun and learning have taken on in my personal internal world.
A library is a place where you can find out how the whole of the world works, irrespective of what kind of ethnic, religious or economic background you happen to come from.
I was born in place where there were few opportunities, but where the prevalence of libraries meant that possibly the most important opportunity of all was still open to everybody. Libraries are pretty much the key to everything that is of benefit, both to us as individuals and as a society, a culture. Support them, use them, and if necessary fight for their survival. Believe me, future gnerations will thank you for it. And if we fail to do these things, then future generations may not even have the language or the concepts necessary to express gratitude, or resentment, or, indeed, anything at all.
Okay, I’m done. Take care of yourselves, take care of the future, and in both of those cases that means taking care of your libraries. With love and best wishes from your friend, Alan Moore.”