Today we get to celebrate with author M G King, the one year anniversary of her Picture Book, “Librarian on the Roof”. Librarian stories were some of my favorite read-alouds when I was a school librarian, and what can be better than a TRUE librarian heroine? RoseAleta Laurell is a plucky librarian who campaigned from the rooftop of the oldest library in Texas.
“Braving heights and severe storms, Ms. Laurell refused to come down until she received $20,000 in donations to improve the children’s section and to bring computers and public internet access into her rural, bilingual community. During her weeklong campout, the local community came together to raise nearly twice that amount.”
I grew up on the banks of the Ohio River in a small midwestern town, whose claim to fame lay in possessing one of the world’s oldest and biggest fossil beds. Back then, in the post-Paleozoic era of the 1970s, librarians did not coddle their young patrons. In fact, they forced us to walk past a large bronze replica of one of those tentacled Devonian creatures on our way into the library. In my memory, this squid-like creature equaled the size of the giant nemesis of Captain Nemo. My brother named it Sheila, for reasons I don’t remember. Although I’m sure she terrified many small children, I loved her! Sheila’s existence hinted at unseen worlds to be discovered, which is exactly what I was looking for in the books I found on the shelves. The seventies were simpler, less affluent times. But walking out of the library, past Sheila, with as many books as I could hold, I felt like every possibility in the world was mine.
The best stories are often the ones we find right in front of us. My husband’s mother, who is a long time volunteer of the historic Dr. Eugene Clark Library, gave us a tour of that beautiful old building one afternoon. While the sunshine sparkled through all the colors of its giant stained glass window, she recounted RoseAleta’s episode on the roof. I was hooked. The story had all the great elements of a picture book — an intriguing setting, a colorful and persistent heroine, and plenty of snags to keep every page interesting. I emailed Rose Aleta the next week and asked her for an interview.
Texans love stories about their state, and RoseAleta’s story captures something of the larger-than-life characters we admire most. But the story has a universal appeal that goes beyond one rural Texas town. Wherever people work together and refuse to give up, wonderful things happen.
The fact that RoseAleta didn’t give up! The book may read like a tall tale, but her troubles are understated. When she set out to bring internet access into a rural library that was on the wrong side of the digital divide, she received a letter that said “We don’t think your community will support kind of changes you’re talking about.” And in part, the writer of the letter was correct. Some members of the community felt like it was more important to protect the library’s historic building. But as director of the library, RoseAleta knew it was her job to make sure the library served the needs of the generation growing up in Lockhart. In any small town, the local politics can be pretty thick. But RoseAleta persisted, and her vision for the library’s place in the community caught on.
There have been lots of great moments! But when a mom told me her daughter slept with my book in her bed every night, I got goosebumps. We don’t usually think of books as being “cuddly” objects. But stories are able to touch young hearts and minds in powerful ways. I had books I cherished as a child, books that still feel a little like old friends whenever I see them.
Another great moment — I’ll never forget the photo of the Schoolcraft, Michigan librarian reading LIBRARIAN ON THE ROOF to her patrons — while seated on her own roof! The dedicated librarians and volunteers of the Schoolcraft Community Library raised $12,000 for their expansion that weekend.
I have been following with concern the many cutbacks in school and public libraries in the US. We aren’t all RoseAleta Laurels, but what can we do to support our local libraries?
Often we think of libraries as repositories for books. But libraries are a whole lot more than that. Information is power, as the saying goes, and now our information is increasingly dependent on technology that is out of reach for a significant number of people. In the U.S., a third of the population still does not have internet access. Libraries have always served as a leveler, enabling everyone to have access to knowledge and information. I think that’s even more true now than before. So I the first step is simply understanding how crucial a library system is to the health of our democracies.
When you aren’t writing and visiting libraries what can you be found doing?
Miriam, thank you so much for sharing with us today and good luck with your puzzle mystery!Warmly,Joanna