First of all, you should know that I love books, always have. Some of my first memories are being in a crib, full of books; I quickly grew to be the kind of kid who had to be told to stop reading and come eat dinner. My mother, a reading teacher, is a book lover herself, and so my growing-up was filled with trips to the public library and the bookstore and her classroom, where I could borrow whatever I wanted from the library she tended. Unsurprisingly, I’ve become the kind of adult who walks down the street reading; in fact, since I finished my schooling 6 years ago and rediscovered reading for pleasure, I’ve read nearly 500 books. I love genre fiction – fantasy and sci-fi novels are my bread and butter (metaphorically, of course, because I don’t eat bread) – but I’ve also been reading graphic novels, memoirs, nonfiction and basically whatever else I can get my hands on for most of my life.
I love reading but I also love the books themselves – the beautiful shapes and colors and art and poeticism of children’s books, the illustrative charts and maps and images in reference guides, the smooth feel of a new paperback, the musty smell of a well-worn hardcover. I love how they make a place feel like home. I love to run my eyes over the titles of books I’ll maybe read, maybe not; I love the promise of ideas.
When I got to ALC-NYC, there were already tons of books here. But they were unruly and overwhelmingly adult; the kind of library you get when well-meaning folks donate the books they no longer want to haul around their life. We had 5 copies of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but not a full set of Harry Potter. There were pockets of places where someone had clearly been poking at it – a few picture books displayed prominently on the back room windowsill, or a stash of Tamora Pierce novels at hand where a teen might find them in the library. I later learned a lot of those books were Abby’s personal books, brought in with specific kids in mind. There were lots of other kids books, but they were all about the space, willy-nilly; there was a library, but who knew what was on the shelves.
About a month into my first year ALFing, we had a staff work day; no kids in the space, just me, Ryan, and Abby, coming in to do what felt necessary for us. I gravitated towards the Library. Do you think it’s okay, I asked, if I move some of these books? I was a new baby facilitator, still deep in my ask-permission conditioning. I knew what I wanted, but I hadn’t yet given myself permission to act on my desires without first receiving outside approval.
Of course you can move the books, Abby and Ryan told me. Do what you want.
It wasn’t that straightforward, of course – I asked many times and received many variations on that answer. I asked about putting books out of sight so I could make others more visible, and about getting rid of old, outdated texts with harmful contents, and trusting my intuition about which books to feature. I don’t remember exactly what I asked my co-facilitators, three years ago now, but I do remember the feeling: is this real? Am I allowed? Am I taking up too much space? I’m grateful for their clarity and support: this is your real job. You are allowed to shape your role with your desires. The space you occupy is valuable to us, and to this community.
Offhandedly, a few months later, Abby told me that she’d listed me as the librarian on one of our mandated government forms; just like that, I realized I already was. It was my first medium-is-the-message experience in self-directed education and it was a powerful one.
I’ve rearranged the Library many times since then; I’ve come to understand the way it has aliveness and needs to be tended, like a garden. I’ve learned a lot about making a welcoming space, when to offer books and when to strew them in discoverable places, how to listen for what texts we need this season. Being Librarian means I get to be guide and guard and gardener; serving as librarian is part of facilitating in my joy. I became ALC-NYCs librarian by noticing my desire and giving myself permission to act on it, just as any good self-directed learner does.