On April 21, a week from tomorrow, a select group of Sisters in Crime member authors will be serving as volunteer staff from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time—or for however many hours their local libraries are open on a Saturday—in local libraries and bookstores across the country. In addition, SinC’s more than 3,000 members worldwide—authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers, librarians and others who love mysteries—are gearing up to go into libraries and bookstores on that day and personally thank the librarians and booksellers they find working in the stacks and behind the counters. Sisters in Crime, an international organization founded to support the professional development of women writing crime fiction (http://www.sistersincrime.org), was established with an organizational meeting held in New York City in the spring of 1987. Saturday’s event, “Booksellers and Librarians Solve Mysteries Every Day,” has been organized to celebrate the 25 years of support given to the mystery genre by librarians and booksellers.
As soon as I heard about this celebration, I signed on as a volunteer—and that was even before I realized that I’d get a commemorative tee-shirt out of the deal. The tricky part was picking which library to approach. There were a couple of possibilities but, in the end, family ties won out. My sister-in-law is library director at Treat Memorial Library in Livermore Falls, Maine and that’s where I’ll be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the big day. I won’t be there as an “author.” I expect to be put to work. Like most small Maine libraries, this one has a small staff and limited hours. There’s always something that needs doing.
As readers of this blog already know from other posts this week, writers love libraries. I can’t remember how young I was when I first visited the one in my hometown of Liberty, New York, but I can recall sitting on the floor in front of the girls’ mystery section and trying to decide which adventure story to take home with me that day. At that time the library was on the second floor of the municipal building. It inspired the fictional library in Moosetookalook, Maine in my Liss MacCrimmon series.
I spent a lot of time in the library in college. Early on I discovered “the fishbowl,” the reading room behind the circulation desk, so-called because of the big glass wall that divided it from the lobby. You could stand on one side and see just about everyone on the other—excellent for social networking in the days waaaay before Facebook. Unfortunately, the fishbowl was demolished when Bates built a new library. Thanks to Josephine-Louise Public Library in Walden, New York (where my parents were then living) I discovered the wonders in inter-library loans and got a head start on research for my undergraduate thesis. Bigger libraries, both academic and public, are wonderful resources, but never underestimate what a tiny rural facility can do.
After I started writing but before I was published, I took a job as a library assistant at Mantor Library at the University of Maine at Farmington. I worked nights and Saturdays at circulation, checking out library materials, handling books on reserve for classes, and shelving returned books, but occasionally I was loaned out to help type entries into URSUS, a newfangled system designed to replace the card catalog. What a concept! Who could ever have imagined back then (the mid-1980s) how far such things would come?
As a published writer, I’ve visited many of Maine’s small libraries (and a few not-so-small) to give talks and readings. Each is unique. When my first fiction, a children’s mystery, came out in 1985, the public libraries in Wilton and Farmington were first in line to say “come do a signing.” Libraries have always been my favorite venue as a speaker, especially when the occasion has been a panel of fellow mystery writers. The speakers’ bureau set up through New England Sisters in Crime does a wonderful job of organizing these events. I’m pretty sure that’s how I first met fellow MaineCrimeWriters.com bloggers Kate and Lea and Julia. And I know I met Sarah at a similar panel at the Bangor Public Library some years back.
Tomorrow marks the end of National Library Week, but libraries are there for us all year round. You don’t have to be a member of Sisters in Crime to stop by at your local library on April 21st and let the people who work there know how much they are appreciated.