School Library Journal invites readers to share their personal experiences with libraries and the impact libraries and librarians have had on their lives. So many of us have cherished memories of our first (or later) librarian. To tell your own story, see the box at the end of this post. Writing a formal essay is not necessary. We’re happy to report your story, if you prefer.
I was undoubtedly the worst athlete in my elementary school. You know that kid who was last picked for teams? Yup, that was me. The only sports award I ever won was “Most Improved in Swimming” at camp, which roughly translates into “You’re not as hopeless now as you were at the beginning of the summer.”
While other kids couldn’t wait to go to gym, I was one of the very few who couldn’t wait to go to library class. I liked the smell of the old books. I liked the wooden chairs and bookshelves that must have been older than me, and don’t get me started on the symmetrical beauty of the card catalog.
The card catalog and the Dewey Decimal System were introduced to me by Mr. Irving Reimann, a tall, thin man consistently attired in a brown leisure suit. Sometimes they were western-inspired suits, but he always wore a suit. There was an old-fashioned formality about Mr. Reimann that the other teachers didn’t have, and it transcended his out-of–date fashion choices. He was reserved and would lower the lights in the library. (Now, looking back as a teacher, I realize that he was probably trying to get us to be quiet.) He called the library a place of sharing and caring, and admonished us to handle books with reverence.
Once a week on Thursday mornings, my first grade class would march upstairs to the library. With last week’s book selection in hand, my palms would sweat—maybe from the plastic library covering, maybe from anticipating the thrill of the impending search through the stacks to select the one perfect book for the next whole week. Really, just one book? My 7-year-old self always wondered why the public library let you check out piles of books. And you know what? There never seemed to be enough time to pick out even that one book. First, Mr. Reimann would teach his lesson, which he did without notes (or a chalkboard, let alone a whiteboard). He would just sit in a high chair, or on a table, and weave stories for us about Dewey, or the ways to find books, or most often, the way to treat books. Finally, the lesson would end and the frenzied quest for the perfect book would begin.
Some Thursdays I left triumphant, knowing I had picked just the right book. On others, I trudged back to class doubtful, a grade-school student’s version of buyer’s remorse. Had I settled? Had someone else snagged the best story before I found it? Would I have to wait a whole week to find out? But on all of those Thursdays, my love of libraries and books was born. So now, when I take my kids—both of whom look forward to library class and inherited their dad’s athletic ability—to see landmark libraries, such as the Boston Public Library or the New York Public Library, they can thank Mr. Reimann for instilling that appreciation in me. And I do, too.
Christine Brower-Cohen, who blogs about books, is a mom of two teens and a sixth-grade reading teacher in West Babylon, NY.
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