Welcome to Shhh…Secrets of the Librarians, a new series (inspired by our long-running Secrets of the Book Critics) in which bibliothecaries (yes, it’s a real word) from around the country share their inspirations, most-recommended titles, thoughts on the role of the library in contemporary society, favorite fictional librarians, and more. Each week we’ll spotlight a librarian—be they Academic, Public, School, or Special—and bring you into their wonderful world.
This week, we spoke to Wisconsin-based children’s librarian, Lydia Sigwarth.
Book Marks: What made you decide to become a librarian?
Lydia Sigwarth: When I was 5 years old my family and I were temporarily homeless after moving to a new state. For 6 months we lived with friends while looking for a new house. During that time my Mom would take my siblings and I to the local public library to read and play almost every day. We spent many long, happy days in that library and it felt like home during a time when I didn’t have a permanent home. The children’s librarian at the library was the epitome of kindness and generosity, constantly giving of her time and attention to make my family feel welcome and safe. She was such a positive influence on my life during that difficult time that I decided there and then that I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Twenty-odd years later here I am!
BM: What book do you find yourself recommending the most and why?
LS: For Preschoolers: Nothing by Jon Agee. This clever picture book is a delightful play on words and always makes kids (and me) giggle.
For Young Readers: Friday Barnes Girl Detective by R.A. Spratt. My inner 10 year old LOVES this brilliant and awkward girl sleuth.
For Teens and Adults: My favorite author is Megan Whalen Turner, she’s the undeniable master of the Plot Twist™. Her Queen’s Thief series is my favorite and I love to share it with others. If anyone does discover her because of this article, please reach out to me on twitter @LibraryLydia; I love to meet other MWT fans!
BM: Tell us something about being a librarian that most people don’t know?
LS: For me public libraries are almost entirely about public service and being a part of the community. On an average day I might spend my afternoon playing Super Smash Bros with 10 year olds, printing out a bunch of sloth facts for preschoolers, helping a cold middle schooler find thermal leggings online, or talking sports books with the high school students. I almost never get to read on the job. In fact, I tell people it’s a bad idea to become a librarian just because they love reading, because if they do, they’ll probably hate most of the job. If they become a librarian because they love readers, then they’ll do okay.
BM: What is the weirdest/most memorable question you’ve gotten from a library patron?
LS: My favorite patron question ever came from a small child who wanted “The After Quill.” I searched our catalog, the internet, everything but I couldn’t find a book with that title. Finally I asked the child what else the knew about the book and he responded “it’s the AFTER book, like a PREquel but after.” I laughed so hard at his logically-sound but factually inaccurate question, and it’s still one of my favorite reader’s advisory questions. It’s now a life goal of mine to write a book called “The After Quill” in honor of that little library patron.
BM: What role does the library play in contemporary society?
LS: The modern library is many things, some of which would probably be surprising to a majority of people. Some libraries are small-town community spaces with books and movies and storytime all in the same room. Some libraries are city social services centers with free lunch for kids and a social worker on staff. The thing I find beautiful about public libraries is how they are all individually able to become what their community needs from them, and that all depends on the patrons and the librarians who serve them. In 2019 libraries everywhere are exploring how to balance their roles of educational/entertainment resource and community space.
BM: Who is your favorite fictional librarian?
LS: The Evil Librarians in Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson. I like to pretend we’re secretly running the world 🙂
Lydia Sigwarth has wanted to be a children’s librarian since she was 5 years old, either that or a time-traveling ballerina, because of technological limitation she ended up as the former. Lydia currently lives in Wisconsin with her family. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and watching posh BBC shows with British people baking or murdering each other. Her story has been featured on NPR’s This American Life.