“The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.”
-Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring
“I get enjoyment and fulfillment, like if you’re accomplishing something and getting somewhere, like Wow, we pulled that off or That was a hard one to do or That note was really expressive. And involving yourself in struggle. That’s not a problem I have. But how do you say that after a show? Yeah, I really involved myself in struggle and pulled off something really complicated.”
-Jack White on performing music, WTF with Marc Maron (podcast), episode 289
When I went on my interview in Henrietta a couple weeks ago, the hiring committee asked me why I became a librarian. For many years now, people who give advice on these matters have been telling librarians not to answer this question, “Because I love to read.”
But I answered this question the same way I’ve answered it in every single job interview I’ve ever gone on. I told the truth.
I became a librarian because I love to read.
I tell this story often because it was a moment that’s defined my life: I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time when I was in the fifth grade. I got to the end and was overwhelmed by the sadness of the story being over, and so I got my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring and read the whole trilogy again.
I’ve reread the series more times than I can count. My love for these books has nothing to do with elves or magic or swords, although those things are all fine, as far as I’m concerned. What makes me return to this story again and again, though, is the notion of life as a quest. My fifth grade self couldn’t have articulated what she found in those books, but I know now that I needed to see that even the smallest person can step away from comfort and into challenge, that change is possible on scales small and large, that our efforts and intentions matter. The story reinforced for me that there are things in this world worth protecting–fellowship and love, food and conversation, adventure and courage, songs and stories. These are the things that sustain us when life is difficult, when we are hurt or afraid and have to be so much braver than we feel.
These books told me to find people who value the things I do and to treasure them, because they are essential. That’s a lesson that led me from fifth grade straight to this moment when I’m sitting here writing this to you.
I’ll never know how many lives have changed because of a book I made sure was on the shelf or something I helped someone find, but I’ll spend my last couple weeks at WPL watching children check out stacks of books, knowing that some of them will find something that will still matter to them when they’re adults trying to figure out this world that defies understanding.
I became a librarian because everyone deserves these chances, moments when something pierces the everyday and points a path toward health and wholeness, toward growth and adventure and change.
I believe we all get to write our own stories. When I was in fifth grade, I decided my story was going to be a little epic.
I like the way that’s working out so far.