How My Librarian Changed My Life

In order to support British Columbia’s teacher-librarians, CWILL BC has asked members to post thoughts, memories, and tributes.

This piece is by Tanya Kyi, and also appears on her blog.

I didn’t cover library cuts in my most recent letter to Premier Campbell. This isn’t because I’m inured to the cuts. It’s because I can’t order my librarian-related thoughts into a coherent argument.

My high school librarian’s name was Elizabeth Hutton, and she was a huge part of why and how I became a writer. Here’s why:

1. Unlike the English teachers in my school, she was not required to teach me how to combine “the dog was red” and “the dog was big” into “the dog was big and red.” (I’m serious. We did pages of those. In grade 12.)

2. She’d lived in Africa. That was cool.

3. She showed me poems by Evelyn Lau. I’m guessing that if our principal had read Evelyn Lau’s poems, he would have whipped that book out of the school library before you could sentence-combine “that book is profound” and “that book is censored.”

4. She convinced me that my poems were wonderful. (This was untrue. However, as a beginning writer, confidence is everything.)

5. She wore long skirts and big pendants, which seemed very artsy and creative. I am still waiting for the courage to emulate these.

6. She made chapbooks of student writing. I still have them, although they are now excruciatingly embarrassing.

7. She suggested that not every page of poetry be surrounded by a fancy scrolled border, a useful piece of advice if I’ve ever heard one.

8. She taught me advanced placement English several afternoons a week for months, some (all?) of which must have been on her own time.

9. She taught me to answer multiple choice questions, possibly a skill even more useful than knowing when to delete a scrolled border.

10. She thought I could be a writer. Not an English teacher, an editor, an advertising copywriter, a newspaper reporter, or any other job I used to tell people I was considering, in order to seem like a reasonable and respectable human being. She thought I could be a writer. And, if you’ll refer back to point number four, confidence is everything.

Did she work part-time or full-time? I don’t know anymore. But I do know that the doors to the library were always open whenever I needed to hide, escape math class, watch my friend Michelle sleep off a hangover, or secretly talk to the extremely eccentric but rather cool guy who played D&D in the corner. Oh… or read. I did that, too.

Now… do you think Premier Campbell would find any of these reasons persuasive?

This entry was posted in books/writing, libraries & librarians, literacy. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How My Librarian Changed My Life

  1. Tanya, I loved yours and James’ blogs. Those words, ‘the door was always open,’ touched me. The schools I attended in England, in pre-historic times, didn’t have librarians. In one school the library was actually a regular classroom with a few more bookshelves than the other classrooms. It didn’t seem too welcoming. But once a week I went to the tiny, local public library, housed in a building that must have been over 100 years old. What a wonderful experience to walk into a room with tables and chairs that were just my size – they still would be, because I didn’t grow too much – and choose books to take home, and to sit at one of the tables and read while my mother chose her books.
    When my son first went to school in Vancouver he got to experience, cheerful welcoming libraries and enthusiastic librarians – at least, for a while. Then the cutbacks began. The doors were not always open anymore. The library was staffed by someone who always seemed to be in a terrible panic, because no one had bothered to train her. Not all libraries had this problem though.
    I have given readings in school libraries in Canada and in the U.S. and England, and I’ve met dedicated librarians. In every school where there is a library and a librarian there are students who make that library their home. The library is the heart and the soul of the school.
    If the library doors close there will be terrible consequences for our children. The colour and flavour will be sucked out of our world. And the government should hang its head in shame to even consider such thoughtless cutbacks.

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