January 2004

Michael Farrelly

library rakehell


There’s this question I get asked, and considering my job is all about questions I am not put off by the asking, I am asked what made you want to become a librarian?

Sure, I can go on an on with vaguely hip metaphors, similes and turns of phrase that describe the hip sexiness of the librarian. I can summon up the historical images of librarians; Irish monks scraping together civilization in their monasteries whilst the word outside their walls burned with faith and fire, the warm wet smell of Alexandria and its honeycombed library. But why did I choose a profession that does not pay well, that is less respected than teachers (and sadly that is quite a damning comment) and still ridiculed with the hair in a bun spinster book-stacker stereotype?

The simple answer is Dracula.

When I was very young, six years old or so, my mother read me Bram Stoker’s tale of sensual immortality, blood-drinking and Victorian morality. Of course my mother gave me a slightly edited version of the tale. I remember seeing the Francis Ford Coppola version of the film and clucking my tongue at the addition of the three sisters and all that violence. But I digress; it was indeed the Prince of Darkness that led me to librarianship. Or is that Prince of the Dead? Hmm. Have to look that one up.

Sitting with the covers tucked under my chin I imagined the Carpathian landscapes, the Victorian Bazaars and the grim Bedlam that held poor damned Renfield. I wanted to know more, to learn more about these words and worlds that spilled over me on a nightly basis.

So, as you may have already guessed, we went to the library. Like most children let loose in a library I began to make piles of books. Some adult, a history of Vlad the Impaler, some for children, Bunnicula and the like, but all of them tangentially connected to the hallowed undead master I wanted to know everything about. The nice man at the check-out desk scanned my books and I got to take them home and read them all. It was magic, pure and simple magic. I went to this place; this big wonderful place filled with books and nice helpful people and came home with all the answers I could ever want. I supposed that in order to work in a library you had to be some form of demigod. Perhaps you had to be an escapee from the Isles of the Blessed, at very least a knight errant from the Round Table?

You might have guessed that I read a great deal as a child.

Libraries taught me about history, about the way societies rise and fall and rise again. I learned the secret histories of the world from conspiracy books, the freemasons and craft masons and the masonry masons and the cabals that oversee them all. I devoured books on the religions of the world, how Zoroastrians bury their dead, or where one might find giant stone Buddahs in Afghanistan. The library was the door I stepped to into a world beyond the cold wet Chicago winters. The branch at Kimball and Foster, with the adult section on the right and the kids on the left, was a wonderful bright place I could always find secrets and answers. Two commodities that mean more to a curious child than gold bars do to a greedy adult.

As I got older I began to be more fascinated with history as a career, but I had no desire to teach history. When I was in the midst of my M.A. in history one of my favorite professor’s suggested a career in libraries. “You spend enough time there to begin with, might as well get paid for it.”