What you’ll need: thousands of books, organizational skills

Songlist: Wrapped Up In Books by Belle and Sebastian, Marian the Librarian from The Music Man

Further reading: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland

Last weekend I went to see my friend star in a production of The Music Man, which happens to be my favorite musical. When I was a kid, I watched this movie approximately 1,402,927 times at my grandparents’ house. My grandfather would sing the ridiculous number “Shipoopi” poolside, and we would all chime in on “Trouble, which starts with a T, that rhymes with P, and that stands for pool!” But my favorite character, the one that my friend played last weekend, was always Marian. Marian the librarian.

I don’t know if my desire to be a librarian was prior to seeing Marian waltz through her library or not, but I do remember “playing librarian” at a very young age. This included putting on a pair of my mother’s dizzying glasses, gathering all my books, and running a pen (capped, of course) across the back of my books as I’d seen my local librarians do. I longed desperately for a special pen like they had that could scan barcodes, and I longed for my books to sport those barcodes.

Dartmouth Library's front desk, where I worked

When I went to college, my dream finally came true. I got a job, during freshman orientation, at the circulation desk of Baker/Berry Library. It was my first real job, which is to say, the first job which supplied me with W-2 forms. And I loved being a librarian just as much as I’d always thought I would. I loved checking in vast stacks of books and organizing them on shelves. I loved helping fellow students find their way around the library (my favorite question came from a friend of mine in the spring of our freshman year–he approached tentatively then said, “Um, like, where are the books?” A more legitimate question than you might think, since Dartmouth’s stacks are somewhat strangely organized). And I loved that all of my friends were completely jealous of this job–when I wasn’t checking books in or out, I could just do my homework. A nice perk.

A year and a half after graduating, I found myself working at a library once more. This was an Americorps job, for which I organized activities in the children’s section for young visiting guests. The point was to connect literacy with games and crafts so the kids would associate reading with fun. And my co-corps members and I came with some pretty awesome ideas: a pirate-themed day complete with a scavenger hunt for the letters P-I-R-A-T-E and pirate books, reading books about masks and making our own from paper plates and tissue paper, writing stories about seahorses (I don’t remember what this was related to), and on and on.

Marian, cutting a rug in her library

There’s a conception of the librarian as a stodgy elderly lady who are sticklers for quiet studiousness. This is not necessarily a misconception, as it certainly is a career that draws women in greater numbers that men, and sometimes attracts odd characters (a St. Paul woman and library employee was recently charged with theft of almost $40,000 in library materials…her life story is rather sad).

Yet, historically, libraries have been some of the greatest treasures of civilization, creating centers of knowledge for which learned people would travel great distances to reach. Before Gutenberg came up with a way to print books efficiently, scholars would have to memorize the contents of the books they read in libraries and carry this information with them. So, if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t appreciate libraries, let me tell you: libraries are damn cool. And I am clearly very cool for having always idolized Marian, and having made my librarian dreams come true, if only for a few years.

As Harold Hill sings, “What can I say, my dear, to make it clear, I need you badly, badly, Madam Librarian…Marian.”

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