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WLRN Journalists Share Their Favorite Library Moments

Justin Sullivan
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At WLRN, our reporters are not just fans of public radio. We also love public libraries. 

For one of our reporters, the library was where animals came alive on pages and giants climbed up tree stalks, where it was easy to get tangled up in a jungle and find herself in a city in another country without ever moving an inch. For others, it was where they found hidden treasures, both in people and in history. For another, the library is a refuge, another place to call home. 

For National Library Week, we dug into our memories (and our hearts) to remember how libraries affected us as both children and adults. Here's what some of us had to share: 

Alejandra Martinez, Sundial Producer: "When I was in elementary school I would walk to my local library every day after school. My librarian was one of my best friends. She would give me extra time on the computer, she would forgive my fines if I hadn’t finished my book on time and she would let me sneak in to English language classes. One of my favorite memories with my librarian was her teaching me how the library had organized the fiction section. I think she wanted me to stop asking questions like 'Where can I find Judy Blume's book?' (I would ask her questions all the time!) Poor, Mrs. Garcia. Little did she know her showing my way around the library would lead to more questions."

Alexander Gonzalez, All Things Considered Producer: "During my first semester at the University of Miami, I was taking a Miami literature course. The final assignment was to write an essay that incorporated historical documents. I chose to write about Pan American World Airways, which was based in Miami. That endeavor led me to the university’s library for its Special Collections archive. They hold the airline’s records – almost a century’s worth of stories.

I focused on the theme of journeys. I scoured through several boxes of promotional posters that offer sleek depictions of destinations in Europe, the Caribbean and Asia.

I’m grateful for this experience. It helped me appreciate the hidden power about libraries. They protect and make accessible some of our greatest historical treasures."

Read More: I Fell In Love With Libraries Because of Ms. Shenita, My Childhood Librarian

Madeline Fox, Palm Beach Reporter: "The library is the first place I go when I move to a new place. For a few years, I was moving every 3-6 months, and I have the key-ring library cards to prove it – eight in total.

A library was my WiFi-rich refuge in Kansas while I was trying to piece together a bedroom of Craigslist furniture before I’d gotten my apartment connected to the internet. It was a place to find familiar books in a less familiar language in Seville. And everywhere, it’s been a way to find out what community events are coming up, how to get connected to local services and organizations – and, of course, what I should be reading, watching and listening to."

Nancy Klingener, Keys Reporter: "As far back as I remember, libraries were a second home to me. My local public library, my school libraries, all of them. I grew up in the same home as my grandmother, a retired library director who still volunteered to do the cataloging in our tiny town library.

So when I moved to Key West in 1991, I immediately got a library card and it became a regular stop. So did all the other branches up and down the Keys, each with its own personality but all welcoming to me as a cardholder.

In 2008, when the recession hit and there were cutbacks at the newspaper where I was working, there was an opening at the community college library. It seemed like the right time to try out my other dream career.

I spent just over a year there and about five working for the Key West branch of the county library - and I won't say I loved every minute because there are some serious stresses facing your underpaid library assistants (be nice to them!). But I did love that job, especially when I could connect people with a book or movie that they loved, or watch kids fall in love with books at the library, just like I did.

I eventually found my way back into journalism, this time in radio. And I love this job, too. But there are days when I miss the library. Fortunately I can go back any time I want as a patron. And I do."

Sammy Mack, Health Reporter: "When I was little — maybe first grade? — my dad took me to the main library in St. Petersburg to pick out some books. I was judging by covers and I came across an illustrated collection of excerpts from Shakespeare. We took it home and I fell in love with the language of it — especially with the incantation of the Weird Sisters. (You know, the one that starts 'double, double toil and trouble...') I read it out loud to my stuffed animals so many times, I still have it mostly memorized. My uncle saw the book one day and asked, 'you know my buddy Billy Shakespeare?' And I remember saying 'no, but I like the way he writes.' Now as a grownup, I write scripts all day. And for the past decade, I've been a volunteer with the Florida Shakespeare Theater. Thanks library!"

Tim Padgett, Americas Editor: "When I was a literacy volunteer - with the Miami Public Library's Project LEAD (Literacy for Every Adult in Dade) - I once got schooled by one of my students in the Coral Reef branch where we met for instruction. She was, as was usually the case with my students, a smart and resourceful person. (You can't be illiterate and navigate the world if you're not smart and resourceful.) But since she'd had virtually no schooling at all, I needed to start as basically as possible. So at one of our early sessions I brought along Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat" to introduce consonant and vowel sounds to her. As soon as I placed the book in front of her, however, she scowled. 'I've got grandchildren,' she told me. 'And I know this is a book for babies. I'm not a baby.' I sheepishly put Dr. Seuss away. And I learned a valuable lesson about people who can't read. They're as proud as people who can."

Alicia Zuckerman, Editorial Director: "Before I became a journalist, I spent five years working at the main branch of the Albany Public Library in New York State. I called it the Apple (APL). I loved talking to the community about the books they were reading, the movies they were watching, the languages they were learning, the careers they were changing, even, sometimes, about the overdue fines they would ask me to waive. I loved issuing library cards to little kids and people who had just moved to town. I loved running into our patrons on the street in my neighborhood, and hearing kids yell, “It’s the Library Lady!”

One patron would check out a steady stream of fascinating, sometimes esoteric, books and movies, and when it wasn’t too busy, we’d spend a lot of time talking about them (and ice cream) at the circulation desk. He’s one of the closest friends in my life today. We’ve seen each other through a lot of ups and downs over the years (and eaten a lot of ice cream), and I owe that to the Albany Public Library.

Alicia Zuckerman at work at the Albany Public Library

The library was also the venue for my first 'broadcast.' It was my job to get on the PA system and say: 'May have I have your attention, please? The time is 8:45, and the library will be closing in 15 minutes. Please bring all materials to check out to the circulation desk at this time.'

That job played a big role in my decision to become a journalist. You’re exposed to a lot about what makes up a society, working in a library -- joy (kids checking out a stack of books as they learn to read), pain (poverty, homelessness, mental illness), challenges (students studying for difficult entrance exams; immigrants studying for citizenship tests), and if you’re lucky like I was -- friendship. We don’t know what we don’t know, but when you’re working in a library, what you don’t know lands in your lap. You’re privy to so many different ideas, so many different people, so many different things to spend time thinking about, to be curious about. What else does that sound like? That sounds like journalism." 

Do you have a favorite library memory? We'd like to hear about it. Fill out the form below and a producer may get in touch with you. 

Katie Lepri Cohen is WLRN's engagement editor. Her work involves distributing and amplifying WLRN's journalism on social media, managing WLRN's social accounts, writing and editing newsletters, and leading audience-listening efforts. Reach out via email at klcohen@wlrnnews.org.
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