It’s taken me some to time to write this in response to recent questioning of the need for libraries in what some call the age of the internet. After I read the story about the Chicago incident and picked up my jaw from the floor, I’ve been pondering exactly what role libraries and librarians play in my own job.
I write fiction, so some people assume I just make things up. Why would I need a library? Well, I do make things up, but I couldn’t have written Wildfire Run without the fabulous library and librarians in my city.
I have a pretty good imagination, but for contemporary fiction to be believable, it has to be based in some sort of reality. I wrote a book set at Camp David, and Secret Service agents play a part in the book. It’s not so easy to walk up to the gates of Camp David and knock, expecting to be let in, or to find Secret Service agents who will talk about their jobs. So I researched. That’s not an easy task either. If you Google Camp David and books, you get many examples of fiction about it, but not much nonfiction. People who work there don’t write tell-alls. I didn’t want to base my book on some other writer’s imagination, so I knew I’d have to take another approach.
There were two great books at the library, and I’m so thankful they were there, but I needed more. I ended up tackling rows of biographies on Presidents who’d been at Camp David. By looking in the indexes, I could find mention of the place, and I managed to glean pieces of valuable information. I couldn’t have done that without the library unless I had ordered dozens of books, hoping I’d hit upon a useful one.
Besides Camp David, I needed confirmation of some other details in my story. For reasons too long to explain here, I needed to know there were old jeeps with large doors. I didn’t want to just stick a jeep in my story and claim it was the right size. I didn’t know how to find that information. I spent hours on the internet and found out way too much about how to buy parts to restore jeeps, but I couldn’t find the detail I needed.
I went to the library. Since I’m embarrassed by some of the weird things I ask librarians to help me find, I rotate which librarians I approach, so they won’t remember me and take up hiding when they see my face. I explained what I wanted, and a wonderful librarian pointed me to something called “Jane’s Military Vehicles”. I haven’t researched Jane, so I can’t explain why the book has such a funny title, but it’s real, official and incredibly detailed. I found my jeep.
Sadly, I was too excited over the find to take note of the librarian’s name. I did thank her, but then I went off to gloat over my glorious bit of knowledge. So thank you again, Mystery Librarian, whoever you are. You may be unknown, but you aren’t unsung. Next time you see someone in a fake nose and glasses wanting to know how to find the wolf population in Slovakia, it just might be me. I couldn’t do my job without you.