To Be or What: A Lesson Learned

A tribute to the local public library and a lesson a librarian taught me years ago.

"Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation." —Walter Cronkite

"Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future." —Ray Bradbury


As I grew up, there was always a public library in my life. I had a library card before I had a credit card. This idea of befriending my library was long before the internet was in vogue. This was also before personal computers were in everyone's homes.

In all my encounters in the libraries over my life, there's one I remember the most. When I was a young child of 14, I went to the New Carrolton Library in Prince George's County in Maryland. This library was my first real experience with a real public library. When I went to  Robert Goddard middle school library, their library were understocked of a lot of books. At 14, I consided this library at New Carrolton huge. In hindsight, this library was a nice sized library. However, as I have grown older and wiser, I have seen bigger sized libraries. You know the old expression: you never forget your first. The New Carrolton Library still is one of my favorite places to visit.

My teacher in school had given the class an assignment which we needed to go to a library for look up information. She told us that we needed to do research, something a young 14 year old was alien to. 

So when I went to the library, I bee-lined myself to the information desk. The librarian at the desk was a blonde woman with a dowdy face

I approached the desk with all the cockiness and swagger that a 14 year old teen who thought he was cool would have.

"I need a book!"

The librarian looked at me with a blank gaze. Without a second thought, she spoke with a tone of authority. “That's nice. Have you looked the book up?”

“Well… er… no.”

This librarian then gave me a lesson in looking up books, which I never will forget as long as I live. She started explaining the card catalog (this was before the card catalog system was computerized and interneted like it is now). The cards were file cards in a larger than life card file cabinet. She explained: “A book could be searched by title, author, or subject.”  

Then she explained the Dewey decimal system—if you do not know, that is how many libraries categorizes books—to my immature 14-year-old mind. Did I get a lesson? You better believe it!

This librarian pointed me in right direction. However, she never showed me where the book was nor pointed me to the shelves. She hinted, but never revealed, where it was. After a few mistakes, I found the section where the books on the subjects were found. There was a pride that I did it myself.

From this special interaction with this librarian, a friendship with this special librarian was born. Sally was a great teacher, wonderful resource, and a supportive friend. I knew her for 40 years and things she taught me long ago I still use. She also taught me to love the library system and my love of the libraries, a gift I can never repay.

When I think of the library, I think of her.

Food for Thought

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Jenni Pompi June 22, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Wow, what a great story, Bennet.Thanks for sharing. I often feel a little sad that my kids will never learn to find a library book using a card catalog now that everything is digital.
Bennet Pomerantz June 22, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Funny, Jenni...In hinesight, truth makes the greatest and funniest stories. It is sad that children and many adults have forsaken the public library because they can find the same item on line. The encyclopedic shelve of old in the library was so long, now all the information fits in two dvd-rom disks. I wish more would use the library before it is not there anymore
Massive July 04, 2012 at 12:33 AM
"The encyclopedic shelve of old in the library was so long, now all the information fits in two dvd-rom disks. I wish more would use the library before it is not there anymore" "I often feel a little sad that my kids will never learn to find a library book using a card catalog now that everything is digital." Yea I dont want my kids near a computer. I want them to search through my 10,000 files to find out the one paper I was looking for. This is why your kids will be failing tech because you are trying to shield them from technology. Your kids will be trying to calculate how much a burger and fries cost on their abacus while my kids are getting something to eat on their skiing trip.
Massive July 04, 2012 at 12:35 AM
And why have libraries anymore? Why not put those resources online since everyone has access to them from their homes? The library is just like the old icebox, its done - no reason to keep it around anymore. Tell me one thing the library can do that the internet cant? And since you can't, why are we wasting tax dollars to fund these buildings?
Bennet Pomerantz July 05, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Massive, how about the people who do not have computer in their home? There are families without internet access now as well. I suggest you watch the classic movie Desk set with Tracy and Hepburn (which you can find at a nominal price at the library)..and then make your commentary about libraries in general then. Maybe, the old ICEBOX isn't there anymore, but the revised refrig is, ..so we still need libraries. My point of the blog was about the personal memory and nostalgia and not a civil war on being tech savvy. Because you do not need ithe public library does not mean everyone does not fit your tech mold.


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