It was the early 1980s. I was just starting high school and super excited that I could finally go the high school library that was at the end of the hallway by the steps. But that was not happening. What I did not understand was that the only way I could go to the library was during study hall and with a signed pass from the librarian. I walked by peering inside for a whole year. Obviously, I was not good at problem solving during that time in my life.
It was not until my sophomore year that some of my classmates shared how they went to the librarian before school started to get his illegible signature scribbled on a scrap of paper and later giving it to the study hall teacher. The next day, I nervously stood in line waiting for him to sign my homemade pass.
The time came for study hall. I went to the study hall teacher who sat upon this tall stool behind a metal desk and handed him my pass waiting to be denied. No reaction. I followed my classmates out the door and across the hallway to the library where I recognized the aroma of books. I could not wait to explore. Everyone was sitting down at long tables spreading out their books. They were actually going to do homework in the library? I started to go in an aisle when the librarian roared for everyone to sit down and to shut up. I immediately sat down. He started to call off names from the bits of papers he had in his hands given to him from the study hall teacher. I raised my hand when he called mine.
I sat there pretending to do homework. I actually did not bring the right book. I had not planned to do work but to look at books. I noticed that slowly one or two older students were going to the shelves and then checking out books with the librarian. I got up and left my book on the table. I started to look around the shelves looking at the spines of books taking one off ever so often to look inside. I was startled by the librarian standing behind me asking what I was looking for. I nervously answered I was just browsing. He then, to my surprise, explained where the various sections of the library were located and how to check out a book with him. I nodded politely smiling at him.
There was no tour of the library. It was as though the library did not exist. The most important room in the whole school was invisible to so many. Over the rest of my high school days, I randomly checked out books while my classmates were roared at for talking and at times thrown back into the study hall with a pointing finger by a red-faced librarian. I learned to ignore him and went through the book stacks, disappointed that I already had read so many and the lack of nonfiction topics I wanted to learn more about. It wasn’t until I was in my senior year did I learn how to do research and that was self-taught in a public library.
I was never taught how to use the library in school. Research skills were not taught to me either. I do vaguely remember one time going to look inside the encyclopedias in the library and taking notes. I was not taught how to take notes and was just writing down main sentences. It was the norm for us to copy what the teachers wrote on the boards into our notebooks.
I actually saw my high school librarian decades later during an OELMA (Ohio Educational Library Media Association) conference I was attending. He was siting in front during one of the sessions where other librarians in that now rather large district were sharing information. He looked the same on the outside. How different his library must have been on the inside.