Posted by: Burlington Public Library (WA) | December 20, 2010

A Poem for Librarians

It’s been a tough year for libraries worldwide.  When I think of all the libraries that have closed, all the school libraries without librarians, and all of the people who have lost their library jobs, this poem becomes even more poignant.  Hans Ostrom, poet and professor of English at the University of Puget Sound, wrote the poem and also posted a video tribute “For Librarians” (3:03) to libraries and librarians.

            — Mary Beth

 

For Librarians

 

  Imagine you can consider all ideas
And images represented by all words
And numbers in all libraries worldwide.
Open the book of this consideration.
Touch the paper. See the illustration
Of you, reading, when you were ten
In your local library. Turn
Several pages. Now read how you
And that other person ignited romance
In, of all places, the stacks, third floor,
In quite a different library. Snowflakes
Brushed against dark glass as you two
Stood between PQ and PR.Now go to the index. Find “possibility.”
Look up from the book. The librarian
Who looks away was watching you.
She knows how to phrase the question
You want answered.

Librarians know where wisdom’s stored.
They catalogue the countless forms
Of silence and tell people what they
Didn’t know they wanted to know.
They treat the mentally fractured
As if they’re whole, the dull as if they’re
Sharp, Winter as if it’s Summer.

A band of sunlight angles through high
Windows, brightens shoes of a librarian,
Who knows the patron in the gray enormous
Coat will steal a book about sex or wiccans.
She knows some Christians will steal books
Deemed Satanic, ignoring a commandment
And the homeless person sleeping in a chair.
She knows some atheists treat Library as
Church, so when she moves into shadows,
She does so quietly. She worries for books.

For the librarian knows books are easily burned,
Recycled, or digitized, reduced to oxygen, carbon,
Silicon, and such basic elements as hate and
Budgetary cuts. She wishes presidents of
The United States would consult librarians
Before going to war. It would save so much time,
So many lives. She knows exactly which references
Know how badly any war will go and how soon
Citizens come to loathe their leaders. She knows
How to find stories about all the libraries
Wiped out by war. She knows patrons who’ve
Been harmed by war. Sometimes they set off alarms.
Someone asks her, “Can you help me find out
If I’m related to Napoleon? ” Yes, ” she answers,
“Come with me, please.”

All libraries may now gather inside invisible
Electrons. After closing time, books in Sweden
Send emails to maps in Chile. A librarian in Topeka
Posts a reply to one in Tokyo, adding to a blue thread
Wrapped around the globe.

As sincerely as librarians worry for books, for shelves,
For catalogues, buildings, and best practices,
So should we worry for librarians, for images and ideas.

At a table in a library, a circle of light
Lies on a book. The hand not writing turns
The page, and something important happens.

Hans Ostrom

 

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