An Open Letter to Librarians Everywhere:
You’ve been in the news a lot lately, some of you for speaking out against or openly defying stupid laws that were recently enacted in your state. If none of you have thought to manufacture “naughty librarian” t-shirts yet, you really should. In fact, I’ll bankroll the screen printing myself and buy one in every color.
You should also know that for the parts of my childhood that I have managed not to repress, I remember much of it was spent reading a book. My extended family called me “bookworm” as though it were an insult and not a badge of honor. When I wasn’t reading a book, I was in my head making up my own stories and characters. And yet, I cannot remember ever actually owning any books myself as a kid.
I remember the summer I spent reading the entire Baby-Sitters Club series, going through about a book a day. We didn’t own those books; I got them from the library that was in walking distance from the basement my mom lived in at the time, the one the family courts mandated we visit six weeks out of the year. I never knew if there would be enough food for dinner, but I knew that every day when I walked to that library, there would be another book about Kristy, Mary-Anne, Stacy, and Claudia waiting for me, no questions asked, except “Can I see your library card?”
I remember reading the entire Sweet Valley High series, never sure if I was more of an Elizabeth or a Jessica. I didn’t own those books. I got them from the Dallas County library in Buffalo, Missouri, which I would walk to with my younger siblings from the Methodist church where our dad attended AA meetings on Tuesdays. When I wasn’t pouring coffee and emptying ash trays for a roomful of recovering alcoholics, I was reading library books. I apologize to all of you for the books I returned that reeked of cigarette smoke as a kid; I swear it wasn’t me. (That part came later.)
It wasn’t until high school that I ever set foot inside a bookstore. It was the Barnes & Noble in Springfield, Missouri; we didn’t have any bookstores in my hometown. Over the next decade, I would come to spend a lot of the Pizza Hut waitress money I should have been putting away for college at that Barnes & Noble, buying the cheapest copy of the classics on my TBR that I could find, because the very concept of book ownership seemed like the height of affluence to me. But even as I started to amass a book collection of my own, I still frequented my school library, so grateful to have a resource for books that I didn’t even have to go out of my way to visit. I am about 90% sure I still don’t have a copy of my high school diploma because you had to pay all your overdue library book fees to get it, and I never paid them. If those fines are still outstanding, please invoice me with interest and I will gladly take care of it.
The library is one of the only remaining institutions in the world where you can browse all day and not feel obligated to buy a thing. All this to say, librarians of the world, keep defying. There are weird kids out there who need you to – kids who don’t own a single book and think owning a couple paperbacks might as well mean belonging to a country club. They’re counting on you to show them the world these laws seek to protect them from.
The 40-year-old woman who still owns a yellowed garage sale copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Kelly I. Hitchcock is a literary fiction author, humorist, and poet in Austin, Texas. She has published several poems, short stories, and creative non-fiction works in literary journals, and is the author of the coming-of-age novel The Redheaded Stepchild, a semi-finalist in the literary category for The Kindle Book Review’s “Best Indie Books of 2011,” and Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook. Her newest novel, Community Klepto, will be published in June 2022 by She Writes Press. She is world-renowned among a readership of five people and growing. She is an editorial contributor to Austin Moms and a regular contributor to Moms Don’t Have Time to Write.
Raised by a single father in the small town of Buffalo, Missouri, Kelly has fond memories of being broke as shit in the Ozarks that strongly influence her writing and way of life. She’s a graduate of Missouri State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. She has six-year-old identical twins and a full-time job, so writing and picking up LEGO are the only other things she can devote herself to.
Learn more at kellyhitchcock.com.
Author photo by Danielle Selby