September 18, 2014

An Open Letter to Miss Petersen | Peer to Peer Review

Dear Miss Petersen,

The becomingly modest thing to say would be “you probably don’t remember me,” but in fact I think there’s a good chance you do. In the early 1970s, when I was between the ages of seven and 11 or so, I was a regular visitor to the children’s room located in the basement of the Dallin Branch of Robbins Library in Arlington, MA, where you were the children’s librarian.

This has never occurred to me before, but, looking back, I now realize that during many of my visits, I was the only child in the room. You and I had lots of conversations during those visits. I wasn’t a particularly studious kid; I loved books, but in those days I was reading a lot of Encyclopedia Brown, and I think I was starting to like Ray Bradbury, and for some reason I had also fallen in love with Harriet the Spy. At that time I was slowly becoming certain that I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up, and you helped me find collections of cartoons by Charles Addams and other greats. I remember checking out many Peanuts anthologies (and even donating a couple of my old ones to the library). I think I was drawing a lot of warplanes at that time, and you helped me find heavily illustrated books about World War II as well.

 An Open Letter to Miss Petersen | Peer to Peer Review

Rick Anderson as a child

Here is what I remember about you: you were on the tall side (I think), you wore glasses and had long brown hair, and you told me that you participated in a local Scandinavian folk dance group, which I found pretty fascinating. I thought you were quite beautiful. Here’s another thing I remember: you were very patient with me. I was kind of an obnoxious kid, and I was not very good at bringing books back on time. (And by “was not very good at” I mean “practically never did.”) I don’t remember you ever getting frustrated with me, or lecturing me, even though you would have had plenty of justification in doing both, many times. You always seemed happy to see me. You were my friend at a time when making friends was maybe a little bit challenging for me.

You presided over my first experience of disintermediated access to library resources. Up until I started visiting your branch, all of my library experiences had been in the presence of my mom. She was the one who could read well enough to find books I would like and who was tall enough to flip through the LP record bins to find music for me to listen to while I looked at books. With you, though, I had guidance and help when I wanted it, and I was free to roam when I didn’t. Many times I found something that looked interesting and asked you about it, and I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t something you could tell me about the book in question. As you got to know me, you got a sense of what kinds of things I liked and you started recommending new books to me—I remember that at one point you tried, without success, to get me interested in Susan Cooper, but I think you also introduced me to Willo Davis Roberts and The View from the Cherry Tree, a book that terrified me more than any other had. I loved it.

Eventually I had read everything that looked interesting in the children’s library, and I started spending more time upstairs in the main collection, but it wasn’t very big and there wasn’t much there that grabbed my attention. By that point I was old enough to start taking the bus by myself down to the main library in Arlington Center, and that was like walking into a treasure cave. I especially fell in love with the record collection up on the fourth floor (was it the fourth?), and over time I came to memorize the rhythm of the clackety elevator that took me up there. After that, I don’t think I ever saw you again.

Twenty years ago I became a librarian. My job has taken me all over the place; I’ve lived in New Hampshire and North Carolina and Nevada and Utah, and I’ve worked for a bookseller and for three different research libraries. A couple of years ago, my job even took me to Scandinavia when I gave a talk in Denmark; that prompted thoughts of you and your folk dancing. There have been so many times that I’ve thought of you and wished I could let you know what became of me—not that I think I’ve been particularly on your mind over the years, but just because I do think you might remember me and would get a chuckle out of the thought of that little kid who never brought his Encyclopedia Brown books back on time growing up to be an administrator in a research library.

Some years back I called the Robbins Library to see if they might know what had happened to you. Unfortunately, its employee records from the early 1970s are gone, and since I don’t think I ever knew your first name, there’s not much chance of tracking you down by other means. So since I have no other way of doing it, I want to take this chance to thank you publicly for your kindness, your patience, and your help. You significantly shaped my idea of what a librarian should be like, and I will always remember you and be grateful.

Sincerely,

Rick (aka Ricky) Anderson

Rick Anderson About Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson (rick.anderson@utah.edu) is Associate Dean for Scholarly Resources and Collections at the University of Utah’s Marriott Library. He serves on numerous editorial and advisory boards and is a regular contributor to the Scholarly Kitchen blog. His book, Buying and Contracting for Resources and Services: A How-to-Do-It Manual for Librarians, was published in 2004 by Neal-Schuman.

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Comments

  1. What a joy to read.

    This brings back memories of re-shelving books in my school library (I read every book in the collection during grades 3-6) and the twice-weekly bookmobile visits during the summer. I was fond of Enid Blyton’s books back then – probably the only one who asked for them in that small town, but just when I thought there weren’t any more, the bookmobile librarian somehow managed to find me just one more to read.

    But, I always returned my books them on time. :-)

  2. This was so charming. I’m sure there are many adults today who would gladly echo this story. I hope every dedicated youth librarian knows that many someones, many somewheres, remember them with gratitude and affection.

  3. Kathy Wiechers says:

    I spent many hours at my local library too here in Sparks beginning in 1969 when I moved here as a ten-year-old. I’ve always had a thing for libraries, in part because we didn’t have a lot of money and the idea of borrowing a book, not having to pay for it, excited me! I always tried to return mine on time as I couldn’t afford the late fees.

    More importantly, because of the great experiences I had in the library, I made sure that my kids spent plenty of time in our local library as well. Luckily, they too enjoyed the library and the librarians were always extremely patient, helpful, and kind. You were lucky to get to know your librarian so well, I’m sure she would love to know what has become of you, wouldn’t that be great if she did!

  4. I remember her! My memories are all of preschool storytime. I have a very clear memory of her reading “The Duchess Bakes a Cake” and I spent a long time in the library at BYU (pre-Google) trying to find it without being sure what the title was or who wrote it. (It was written by Virginia Kahl–now it’s one of Rachel’s favorite books.) I also remember sitting in a circle with her and some other children on the lawn outside the lower door at the Dallin Branch, singing “Where is Thumbkin?” I loved her and was crushed when she left. (I think she got married and was having a baby…it was when I was in kindergarten). This made me weepy, Rick. I wish we could find her.

  5. What a lovely remembrance! I live in Arlington and have posted your piece to the town’s email list. Maybe someone there will know what became of her.

  6. A beautiful story…thanks.

  7. She’s found! The previous library director at Robbins Library, Arlington, gave the info to the current library director. She’s at the Concord (MA) Public Library and her married name is Patricia Pluskal. LJ should reconnect the two and do a follow-up article!

    • How wonderful that you found her! A few years ago I called the elementary school that I attended in the 60′s to ask about the librarian at the time. I don’t remember her name or what she looked like but she took a very shy girl who had been sent back to Kindergarten because she couldn’t read in 1st grade and turned her into an avid reader! I never thought I would become a librarian myself but I did about 12 years ago and I wanted to thank her. But they did not have records that far back either…. Just in case someone out there knows who it was: Fallis Elementary in Denver, CO about 1963 or 64….

  8. What a charming, heartwarming tribute! I had many Miss Petersen’s in my childhood and they enriched my life in ways I probably don’t even realize. I so hope you will reconnect with each other through this column.

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