Friday, November 04, 2005

History of a Librarian (pt. 1)

The question is asked of me often: How did you become a librarian? It is a simple question with no simple answer. I know of only one thing with any degree of certainty: Librarians aren't born, they are forged in the fires of experience. Looking back across my early years, it becomes apparent that all my experience, every seemingly trivial circumstance of fate, has pushed me toward this most glorious of professions.

Growing up, my household was unexceptional. My father was the leading American grammarian of his time, as well as one of the richest prospectors of the Alaskan gold rush and Colorado Silver rush. He used to regale his fellow treasure hunters by diagramming their rude, dialectical utterances upon the snow. Oh, how he loved to diagram sentences. My earliest memories are of the mobile he had placed above my bassinet, a lovely mobile of verbs and nouns. Subjects, actions, and objects would swing about my youthful head forming themselves into any number of diagrammed sentences. How I delighted in the magical interplay of words. How desperately my stubby infant hands reached for this mobile. How dearly I desired to be part of the world of words.

My mother - having been abandoned at birth - grew up as the adopted daughter of a Cherokee Indian chief. It was not until her eighteenth birthday, that her true origin was revealed to her. With full blessing of her adopted tribe, she struck out to make something of herself in the world of her birth. She rode ponies bareback in a second rate wild west show which brought her east. Eventually she found herself at Harvard university where she studied literature. After graduation, she become a minor poet before using her native American heritage to write novels of the west. One such novel - thanks to my mother's uncanny talent for perfect sentence structure - caught my father's fancy. He forced a meeting and they were soon married.

After marriage, my parents contented themselves with a traveling lifestyle. They moved from town to town. My father gaining employment as a teacher and my mother writing a little. All the while they searched for buried confederate treasures left over from the war between the states, and collecting letters from great American authors.

It was into this mundane world I was born. I had a quiet but contented childhood. I learned to read at 14 months, and soon my best friends were the authors I was surrounded by: Dickens, Stevenson, Verne, Twain. I traveled with my parents and helped them in their adventurous pursuits. I was often employed to crawl into small spaces - mine shafts, dumb waiters, duct work - which my parents could not fit. At the age of five, I first visited my family's ancestral home in Aliquippa Pennsylvania, where I would later summer with my Grandfather, Edsel Intrepid. There I learned the fine arts of spelunking, equestrian studies, bull riding, fencing, and book collecting. On the whole it was an unexceptional childhood, but I was happy. The bedrock instincts of a librarian were instilled in me: A love of books, a knowledge of words, and the uncanny gift for looking death himself in the eye and laughing.

Yes, looking at it now, it seems I had no choice but to become a librarian. Although there were dark periods. In my early adolescence, for a brief period I rejected books. My parents came to me and implored me to tell them why I had stopped reading. I told them that "I prefer not to." This answer seemed to calm and amuse my parents. At the time I did not know why this was. Apparently I was the only 13 year old not up on his Melville. Despite my parents' assurance the phase would pass, I could not bring myself to read. I had lost my love of books.

This lasted until I made my first rare book find.

To be continued....

Dodge Intrepid