The Chronicles of Narnia, Rupert Giles, and Vaccine Clinics in Libraries appears on the Book Marks website and is part of a series entitled “Secrets of the Librarians, (inspired by our long-running Secrets of the Book Critics) in which bibliothecaries (yes, it’s a real word) from around the country share their inspirations, most-recommended titles, thoughts on the role of the library in contemporary society, favorite fictional librarians, and more.”
This week’s discussion features Toronto public librarian Michelle Leung.
Book Marks: What made you decide to become a librarian?
Michelle Leung: I was the shy, awkward and lonely immigrant kid that spent their entire childhood in libraries, learning English through books. I found myself being completely captivated by, and lost in, stories and could spend hours exploring the shelves. I was constantly amazed that all this knowledge was free for the taking! As a young girl, my neighbourhood librarian would always “save” me the book kits that came with an audio cassette (I loved being read to!) and she always remembered that I liked Disney princesses and books like The Berenstain Bears and Clifford the Big Red Dog. We kept in touch for many years until she retired and moved to a new city. I will always remember her kindness and generosity, and how I would rush to her every day after school and she was always happy to hear about my school day. After I outgrew Babysitters Club, Nancy Drew, Goosebumps and Fear Street, another series I was definitely obsessed with as a young reader was C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I guess looking back, there would have been no other suitable career. As a high schooler, I got a job shelving books at this same library and, as they say, the rest is history! Through meeting all my smart colleagues and working at the library, I quickly realized what a valuable service we are to so many, especially younger children and families, newcomers, students of all ages and marginalized communities.
ML: This one is easy! The most meaningful book to me in the last decade is without a doubt Long Live The Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden. I’ve gifted this book countless times since publication and my friends know I can’t stop talking about it. I read a lot of memoirs, and have never been so affected by this story of girlhood rendered so beautifully. T Kira Madden’s sentences are so glorious and breathtaking, I am forever a fan and will read anything she writes.
BM: Tell us something about being a librarian that most people don’t know?
ML: A couple of things: librarians need post graduate degrees and professional accreditation from a school that typically has a Library and Information Science faculty. I also think there is a misconception that being a public librarian is a quiet, soothing and—dare I say—easy job where you get to read a lot at work. In reality, libraries can be the loudest community hangout spaces you’ve ever stepped foot in. On any given day, my colleagues are delivering free programs, connecting with the local neighborhood on outreach initiatives, visiting nearby schools, building the collection and general maintenance/weeding, and answering a flurry of customer service and reference questions. This also doesn’t even begin to touch upon the different roles librarians and other library workers are expected to play now: babysitter, social worker, therapist, community connector, editor, and frequently tech troubleshooter— resetting email passwords and printer jam support!
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