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Why We Love Libraries: An Interview with David Smith

My love for libraries goes way back to my childhood. I've always felt safe and comforted in the quiet, well-organized rows and rows of shelves.

Growing up, I was surrounded by good books. I visited the library often, checking out more books than I could easily carry. I wanted to read every single book there, a feat I never accomplished though I certainly made an admirable attempt.

When the Scholastic book fair came to school, my mom allowed me to buy as many books as I wanted. I poured through the leaflet, circling anything that made me at all curious.

And I wanted to know everything—what happened in each book, why the characters acted the way they did, and if I could solve the mystery before Nancy Drew could.

In addition to satisfying my curiosity about the world, books inspired me and made me think about new ideas. Their beauty captured my attention. My first writing retreat was held at my local library. It is no surprise that libraries remain some of the most beautiful and soothing places in the world to me.

Which is why today's blog post is dedicated to our love of libraries. I'm interviewing my friend and librarian David Smith from Escuela Bilingüe Pioneer. An avid reader, David is also known as a connector of students to books.

David was one of my beta readers for Sophie and Spot and shared valuable feedback on the plot, characters, and reading audience. I will always remember his comment on some of my scenes: "simply phenomenal writing." I am so grateful for his support of my writing journey.

What is your earliest memory of the library?

I remember the story corner of my elementary library, filled with cushions to sit on and a rocking chair for Mrs. Williams to sit in while she read us stories.

What do you love about libraries and reading in general?

I have always loved books, and reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes since my childhood. Books allow me to learn as well as escape the "real" world for a short time. I love going to libraries when I visit other towns or cities, especially in other countries, to see how they have it set up and what books they have to offer.

How do you create a safe space for all of your students?

As an elementary bilingual school librarian, I try to stock our shelves with a huge variety of books, both to hopefully let students see themselves as well as be able to understand others in the books they read, and to pique any interest that a student might have. I try to get to know every student and create a relationship with them so they feel comfortable and look forward to coming to the library, and hopefully see me as an adult they can trust and talk to.

How do you select the books you stock in your library?

I look at a wide variety of sources to find books for every interest, at every level and in both English and especially Spanish. I am fortunate to have a fairly large budget from both the school and our PTO, I host two Scholastic Book Fairs a year to get more books and funds, and I apply for numerous Donors Choose projects centered around books every year.

You have a friend who works in one of the school districts in Florida that was censoring books in classrooms and school libraries. What can you tell us about this situation?

I don't know a lot of the specific details aside from what I have read [see e.g. "With Rising Book Bans, Librarians Have Come Under Attack"] Although she was [working at the district level and] not . . . directly in schools, I know she was horrified at seeing what was going on around her. She said that many teachers felt powerless and scared of any repercussions if they spoke out or resisted.

How can we help?

We all need to continue to advocate to people we know and any organizations we are connected with about the importance of diversity in books and access to those books for everyone. The old adage "if you see something, speak up" applies here. Vote for candidates that support these ideas as well. Also, buy and read books by diverse authors and on a wide variety of topics, both for yourself and the children in your life.

Quote from Michelle Obama's book "The Light We Carry" over pink and orange brushstroke and words fading in the background: "We need to stay aware of whose stories are being told and whose are being erased. This is a battle over who matters, about who gets to be seen."

Why do you think it's important for libraries to provide access to a range of books, ideas, and perspectives?

All people matter and it is vital that everyone has access to books that not only provide a mirror to themselves, but also windows and sliding glass doors into the lives of those who are different from us (see Rudine Sims Bishop's "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors" for a deeper understanding of her concepts). Through different types of books, with different types of characters and information, we can all gain a greater understanding of the diverse peoples all round us and the world, and we can all grow individually as well as a society.

Why did you choose to become an elementary school librarian? Is it what you expected?

I never planned on doing it, but when the opportunity was offered I jumped at it as I have always loved connecting students with books whether as a classroom teacher, a literacy teacher or an ESL teacher. It has been everything and more and I love the opportunity it gives me to affect so many students' lives.

What is one thing most people don't know about your work?

That it involves a lot of tedious work to keep a library going, from the search, selection, and purchasing of materials, to the barcoding and labeling of books, to the setup of our space, to the constant straightening of books and shelves, book repairs, and displays. There is no single super difficult task, but the list of necessary tasks is never-ending.

What is one thing you're grateful for about being a librarian?

I have been able to create countless relationships with students. My greatest joy is when a former student I have not seen in years visits me or comes up to me in the outside world and shares that I made a difference in their lives.

Thank you so much for being interviewed, David!

To my readers, if you also love your library, let them know. You can either share a note of thanks through the contact form on their website or in person. I'm sure it will make their day!

And no matter what, go check out some books from your local library. You never know what new horizons await.

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