Every April, here in the United States, National Library Week celebrates the benefits we realize daily from libraries throughout the country and the people who staff them. In addition to providing books ranging from cozy reads to scholarly tomes, and a wide range of other media, libraries are also community gathering places for myriad social activities such as book clubs, creative writing groups and even ukulele lessons. Not long ago, I saw a sandwich sign on the sidewalk outside my local library which said, “Whoever you are, whatever you need — we are here for you.” On the way home, I reflected on how much that echoes my experience.
Here’s a small example. In my work as an art appraiser, I frequently have to search for relevant, but sometimes obscure information. And in this digital age, it is easy to find some of what I need on the internet — I just Google it! But there are times when nothing less than an actual printed book will suffice. When I lived in a large metro area in California, I had ready access to a large library with a dedicated art reference section and research librarian. A visit there was like being in a candy store — so many good, beautiful and useful things right at my fingertips.
A few years ago, I moved back to a coastal village in Maine, with a much smaller library, which understandably lacks the extensive print reference material in the library I left behind. I was afraid the seeming dearth of available resources would present a real challenge to my appraisal practice.
Enter my local librarian, Laura, who will search for a particular reference book not found on the local shelf. Often this book is the key to my research regarding a particular artist, and more often than not, is rare and expensive. And as I probably wouldn’t need this particular volume again, it doesn’t make good sense for me to buy it to add to my office library.
Sometimes I can find the book myself. If it circulates within the state of Maine, there is an online search engine that I can use to request the book from another library. The book is then transferred through the handy inter-library loan system and arrives as if by magic for pickup.
However, there are times the book is only available by mail from an out-of-state library and must be requested by a librarian. That’s when my friend Laura enters the picture. I let her know what I need, and she gets right on it like a bloodhound on the scent, and if the book can circulate, very shortly it shows up at my library. When I thanked her recently for all her help, she just smiled and said that, as far as she was concerned, librarians are really all about getting the information that people need.
Not long ago, she was able to track down an important artist’s catalog raisonné from a large university library in Boston. I was so impressed that the school would allow this book to travel, that I called the university circulation librarian to thank him and to tell him what a valuable service that was to me. He seemed surprised, but delighted, that I would take the time to thank him, and said, in a tone of voice that sounded a bit like a shrug of the shoulders, “Oh, it’s just what we do.”
So, in grateful appreciation for all libraries and librarians wherever you are, here’s to you with love, for just doing what you do.
Jo Desmond of Rockport is an art appraiser.