Monday, February 11, 2008

Library Geek Misses Her Big Chance (Reports from the NY SCBWI conference)

The first in a series of mini-reports on my trip to the New York SCBWI Winter conference:

I did something geeky last Friday. I went to the Central Children's Room at the Donnell branch of the New York Public Library and asked to see a copy of my book. I was just going to peek at it on the shelves and marvel that my book (MY book!) was in the same building as the original stuffed animals from Winnie the Pooh, Wyeth paintings, and a Newbery medal.

But my surreptitious plan didn't work. The librarian on duty insisted upon doing her job and helping me. It turns out that Letters From Rapunzel at this particular branch was non-circulating, and The Most Helpful Librarian in the World jumped right up and went to the back stacks to pull it for me.

Really, I didn't mean to make her leave her desk and go fetch my own book! It's not like I haven't seen it before. But I hadn't seen it in a library in New York before, and I really did want to. Maybe because I went to kindergarten in NY. Maybe because I went to the library often in NY. (Although not the Donnell branch, sadly, according to my mom and dad. More likely the local Queens branch.) Or maybe because I'm a total library geek.

Anyhow, I held it, stroked its shiny library cover, and fantasized about filling the white space on the title page with a pithy literary comment, my non-trembling signature, and the date: Feb. 8, 2008. Then, I reluctantly gave it back to the Most Helpful Librarian. Turns out that I screwed THAT up.

Because later that night, at the KidLit Drinks get-together, I talked with Betsy Bird, librarian at the same famous Donnell Children's Room, and blogger as Fuse 8 (read her detailed post about Donnell here,) and she said: Oh, did you sign your book?

WHAT? I could've written in a library book? Really? *sigh*

On the other hand, I did do some things right on my visit to Donnell. I inspected Eeyore's tail and marveled at Tigger's realistic stripes. I signed Pooh's guest book. I eavesdropped on a play being rehearsed in a back room. I said a little prayer before the plain, matter-of-fact sign reading: In Memoriam: Madeleine L'Engle and Lloyd Alexander (among others.) I peered through the window of an office at a model of the Little Cabin in the Woods, and longed to move the figures around in a dance to a fiddle tune. I oohed over the Mary Poppins books and umbrella.

Most of all, I left feeling grateful for the chance to stand in a place where I could picture myself as a child, rushing in the door, running over to the new books, getting lost in all the choices, visiting old favorites on the shelves, and leaving with an armful of the best of the best. I wouldn't have noticed if an author had been standing there, holding her own book. Except of course, if it was a book I wanted to read. And then I would've thought: HEY! WEIRDO! Are you done with that?

P.S. The building that holds the Donnell branch has been sold. Betsy Bird has been gathering memories of the Children's Reading Room. If you have a good story, please get it to her here.


  1. Oh, I'm so jealous! What a beautiful experience you had, even though you felt you had screwed it up! Pooh's guest book? Mary Poppins stuff? Can't wait to hear more about your NYC trip!

  2. I love that you said a little prayer in front of those plaques.

    I'm so behind on blog-reading. I still haven't read your Poetry Friday post, but I'm looking forward to doing so.

    Jules, 7-Imp

  3. Sara!

    Great to meet you in person at the SCBWI shin dig. I've got so much to blog and not enough time. But wanted to say hi. Come on over to The Forever Dog Blog

    How great was Carolyn Mackler?!

    I gotta write some more books!

  4. Sara, I had no idea we were allowed to sign library books. You just rocked my world.

    How fun that you got to hang out there and play! Very nice field trip you treated yourself to, missy.

  5. What a great story. So did you get a chance to go back to sign your book? I hope you did!

  6. No, I didn't get a chance to go back. The next day was chock-full of conference programming, and I was completely wiped out by the end of the day. Ah, well. I think I would've left a big ink blot in it, anyway. ;)

  7. Come on over to Bonnie’s Books ( Dress up because I’m having an awards ceremony complete with gala. And do bring along your acceptance speech, though the producers are asking that each person receiving an award please limit your speech to five minutes ... save your longer comments for your own blog, when you pass along the award(s).

  8. >And then I would've thought: HEY! WEIRDO! Are you done with that?

    I like this observation! I think it's a wise child who thinks that. The author really needs to vanish behind their book. Meeting the human being behind the words can only lead to disappointment.
    I've popped into a couple of bookshops (not libraries) to sign my own book on the shelf, but I've given that up. It's just too embarrassing! Why, I don't know, but it is.

  9. But "non-circulating"? Why? I don't understand that policy at all. Did the person fetching the book for you not notice that you are the author? Wait, no, the photo on the back flap is a bit small, I guess. Oh, well. If it helps, I'll let you sign my book.

    Um, sorry you lost your acceptance speech for your award on my blog, but that's okay. You DID manage to get home with the award itself, didn't you? If not, pick up a copy of your "E" badge of honor here:

    The acceptance speeches are rolling in, and some are pretty funny ... but I know Rapunzel could have done better than most if not all of them, maybe because she's more imaginative. Next time, maybe I'll give Rapunzel herself an award. Now that would be something, wouldn't it?


R-E-S-P-E-C-T (or you will be deleted)

You can receive followup comments to this conversation by checking the "notify me" box below the comment window.