A close friend of mine recently sent me an article from a July issue of the New York Times describing “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers“… stating, in essence, that today’s librarians are quite hip and not at all the stereotyped bun-wearers of yesteryear. I replied that I always knew librarians were hip and that finally, after many many years of hipness, the NYT finally caught on. But that leads me to the subject of this blog: the draw of the professional library world and why (or actually who) inspired me to become a librarian.
For me, librarianship is a calling. I began working in libraries at the age of fourteen and while I have had other jobs, life experiences, and educational experiences, one constant in my life is that I’ve always worked in libraries. Some people may find it humorous to learn that I started working in libraries because I wanted to make money and not because I loved books and reading… in fact, I was what librarians call a “reluctant reader”, meaning although I could read, I rarely did. It was only after I was surrounded by books and by people who read that I began my journey of being dedicated to the book (but that is another story).
At 14, I was hired by the infamous Margaret “Peg” Perry at the Canton Public Library. Little did I know that under Peg’s mentorship, I would grow as a reader, a person, and ultimately into a librarian.
Katharine, Peg (left), and Marion (right) Hepburn.
Peg Perry was larger than life, and infinitely “hip”. Sister of actress Katharine Hepburn and daughter of activist and nonconformist parents, Peg wore jeans, smoked cigarettes, talked politics and loved to laugh. I can still see her sitting behind her small (and very messy) desk as I sat across from her typing book cards for the card catalogs, now relegated to just memories in most libraries. Just being around her, and watching- and listening- to her interact with patrons, made me realize that there was so much more to life than I had ever realized. And that the door to knowing more was all around us, behind the covers of books.
Another gift that Peg Perry gave me was her management style. It was based on tradition, innovation, strength and fun. She respected the curiosity of people and gave her all to provide them with the books they needed to satisfy that curiosity. She always employed eccentric and unusual people… thus, my impression that librarians were (and are), as the NYT now describes, “hip”. She chose her staff carefully, and not only for the benefit of the library, but for the benefit of the employee as well. The decade that I spent with Peg Perry had a profound influence in my life.
Peg instilled a strong belief in the value of libraries to everyone who came into contact with her. She believed that libraries have an essential importance in a democratic society where citizens must have the freedom to read, discuss and think. She made me realize, at a young age, that libraries are a keystone institution in a community. Libraries are a vital link to freedom and democracy. Ultimately, when it came time to select a career, I realized I had already chosen one: librarianship.
Peg Perry passed away in February of 2006 but her legacy lives on in my work and in the lives of many others. She’ll always be the “hippest shusher” to me.
A couple of my favorite hip librarians in film include:
Desk Set : a classic and terrifically funny, witty film starring Katharine Hepburn as a librarian and Spencer Tracy as a computer genius sent in to automate and make the library more “efficient”.
Foul Play: Here is a true “screwball comedy” starring Goldie Hawn as a San Francisco librarian who on impulse picks up a hitchhiker and finds herself in the middle of a bizarre, screwball murder plot. Chevy Chase plays the police officer who helps her untangle the mysteries.
Ann Marie is the Library Director of the Oliver Wolcott Library