Self-explanatory. Appeared in The New York Times, September 18, 2011.
I remember her as small woman but what do I know? I was small myself. She’s in none of the official photographs I have from my elementary school days which is sad considering how important she was to our education, to my education. In my memories my first librarian is gentle whitewoman who wore glasses and was exceedingly kind to this new immigrant. I do not remember her voice but I do remember that every time I saw her she called me to her desk and showed me with an almost conspiratorial glee a book she had picked out for me, a book I always read and often loved.
Every now and then you get lucky in your education and you make a teacher-friend; Mrs Crowell was my first. By second grade she was allowing me to take out more books than the prescribed limit. By third grade I was granted admission to her librarian’s office, where I would make copies of pages of Books in Print so that I could keep track of the authors I was trying to work my way through. She encouraged me and guided me and my love of books was born of hers. Books became my passion. As a newcomer with almost no knowledge of the country in which I’d found myself I was desperate to understand where the hell I was, who I was. I sought those answers in books. I also perhaps more than anything wanted to feel safe. And it was in Mrs Crowell’s library that I found my first harbor, my first truly safe place in the US.
Sadly I lost track of Mrs Crowell – even Google can’t find her — but I still feel a happy pulse every time I see a library. Libraries are the places I feel most at home in; too bad in these rough times they’re the first things we cut. I’m with Borges in imagining Paradise “as a kind of library.” Where instead of angels there will be a corps of excellent librarians. Similar in spirit to that spare enthusiastic woman who first initiated me into the power of reading and who, in doing so, gave me a glimpse of a future where I might actually be at home.