Unsung Heroes: A Love Letter to Librarians Everywhere

With the rise in book bans across the United States, librarians have become controversial figures. But before they became unwitting political figures, librarians were people’s first defense to the freedom of information.

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An illustrated image of a female librarian pushing a cart full of books with a row of full bookshelves in the background.

When I was a child, I always wanted to be a librarian. To a quiet kid who sought solace in books and quiet corners, a library was more than a haven–it was a paradise. The idea that grown-ups got paid to talk about books seemed too good to be true, and I was thrilled to know that it was an acceptable option for adulting.

As I got older my appreciation of librarians and libraries only grew instead of diminishing. I learned there was more to librarians than just helping you find the perfect book and signing up for a library card. Librarians are fountains of knowledge, not just for the bookish, inquisitive kids who sought shelter in books but also for students, researchers, writers, and anyone looking to learn. Libraries are more than a book-borrowing system — they are places of productivity and places of refuge and places of exploration. 

Simply put, libraries are irreplaceable resources to communities, and librarians are the first line of defense in keeping that resource open and safe for all.

Librarians are the Jack of All Trades

Librarians wear several caps in their profession: researcher, confidante, advocate, teacher, friend. They act as many things to hundreds, if not thousands, of the people in their community who seek out the library. More than just a friendly face that helps you check out a library book, they are a wealth of knowledge on not only information inside the library but also the community as a whole.

A female librarian standing on a stepladder as she puts books on a shelf.

They plan events, order books, keep apprised of the community, and coordinate with schools. Librarians are everywhere, and their influence extends city-wide. Sometimes even state-wide.

Yet, it’s rare that we remember to be thankful for librarians instead of taking advantage of them. A lot of librarians who work in schools or run public libraries operate quietly, unnoticed until they’re needed, and fade back into the library’s atmosphere until they’re needed again.

Are Their Positions in Danger?

In the past two years, librarians have gained more attention on a local and national level. Unfortunately, this attention comes from an increase in book bans across the nation, which have impacted students, writers, educators, and librarians. The people who once chose books in hopes of getting them into the hands of the right child are now pulling those same titles from the shelves. As several states work to pass legislation to restrict the materials in books, librarians receive the brunt of the consequences of their state’s policymaking.

A female librarian pointing at a book on a shelf as she helps a student look for something.

The significance of libraries and their employees is what makes them such a controversial target as the number of books increases. Many parents have objected to certain titles appearing in classrooms and school libraries. When children and teenagers began seeking these titles out in their public libraries, the same protestors set their sights on the public libraries as well.

The drastic changes required as more laws come to pass have left the role of librarian fundamentally changed. One high school librarian even found herself leaving her job because of how dispassionate Florida’s new mandatory procedures made her feel. While some states still haven’t enacted legal ways of banning books, the librarians in these communities are still facing monumental pressure to conform to objections. A librarian in Texas was even fired for refusing to ban books that discussed racism and queer experiences. Although the former Texan librarian has filed for wrongful termination, her experience is just one of many similar cases popping up around the country.

More Than Just A Job

For many, being a librarian is not simply a career. It’s an expression of their passion, their way of connecting with the world around them, and how they leave an impact on the world. Some possibly even became a librarian because, like me, they had fond memories of libraries from their childhood or wanted to make a living out of loving books.

Two children listening attentively as a young woman reads a book to them in a library.

Is it simply a bid to restrict the type of books available to certain ages, or is it more of a personal attack? Many librarians have a personal connection to the books they recommend or advocate for, and to have those books targeted for being “inappropriate” or “explicit” is also a personal attack against a librarian. Or, in a simpler but more devastating type of cruelty, these librarians are alienated. More than they are for books, librarians are for people. As librarians are fired or disheartened from their positions, they are losing their ability to connect with others and inspire them the same way they may have been inspired in their youth.

Let’s Thank Our Modern-Day Heroes

Truthfully, a part of me still wants to be a librarian. Even though libraries have been thrown into a perpetual state of turmoil as the fight against books rages, they still call to me. Librarians are no longer the intimidating, all-knowing figures of my childhood but something more attainable. They are human who loves books, just like me. And just like me, they were drawn to books and libraries for their reasons, whether personal or sentimental or intellectual. 

An upward image of a center aisle in a library, catching rows of filled bookcases on two floor levels.

As school and public librarians become figureheads of political movements on either side of the aisle, my respect and admiration for them only grow. Against all odds, they remain persistent in spreading the freedom to read. Even more impressive, they remain kind.

It took too long for us to appreciate the work librarians do each day.

Let’s hope it’s not too late to start.

To read more about librarians and banned books, click here and here!