Portraits Of Librarians Celebrate America's Bookish Unsung Heroes

“Libraries are more important to our world than people realize."

Librarians hold a deceptively humble, yet powerful, role: Whether you’re a young child or an adult, a new student or an erudite academic, they offer guidance to rich worlds of literacy and scholarship. Librarians are on the front lines, putting a friendly face to the idea of book love and helping millions of Americans get the resources, encouragement and support they need to become avid readers.

Who our librarians are, then, actually matters a great deal. In Kyle Cassidy’s new book This Is What a Librarian Looks Like, the photographer reveals portraits of hundreds of librarians, sharing both their sunny faces and their thoughts on the value of libraries. The result: a colorful tapestry of men and women of all ages, races and ethnicity, some dressed conservatively and some with tattoos and brightly dyed hair, but all bursting with smiles and enthusiasm for their life missions.

In his introduction, Cassidy writes that he began the project after one of his future subjects, Naomi Gonzales, asked him to attend an American Library Association meeting. “She promised me,” he recalls, “that librarians were both friendly and photogenic” ― a bold claim that is backed up by his project. His book, which features guest essays by writers like Jeff Vandermeer, Neil Gaiman and Amy Dickinson, doesn’t shy away from discussing the challenges libraries face in an era of threats to public funding and a rising emphasis on digital resources over print collections. Nonetheless, the tone is heartwarming and optimistic, encapsulating the idealistic value for the written word and commitment to equal opportunity that many associate with libraries.

Above all, the volume is a touching reminder of the loving human work that keeps our libraries thriving, ready to help us when we need them. Below, we’ve excerpted several portraits from This Is What a Librarian Looks Like:

Latanya N. Jenkins, Reference Librarian for Government Information and African American Studies - Samuel L Paley Library
Kyle Cassidy
“The greatest challenge we face today is the lack of a comprehensive way to make resources available. Libraries provide access to information, connecting people and the things they’re looking for. If my library shut down tomorrow there would be chaos.”
Kyle K. Courtney, Copyright Advisor at Harvard University Library
Kyle Cassidy
“Libraries are more important to our world than people realize. We are the 'holders of forever' ensuring access to our cultural heritage while providing the free access and flow of information to anyone in the world. All you have to do is ask.”
Naomi Gonzales, Public Health Coordinator at National Network of Libraries of Medicine
Kyle Cassidy
“To me, libraries will always be a place of discovery and empowerment. We help equip people with the knowledge they need to face their challenges, no matter how personal or epic."
Jessie Nachem, Librarian at the Wright Institute Oakland Public Library
Kyle Cassidy
“Libraries are centers of discovery and a safe place to go where one is encouraged and supported in finding information that is empowering and transformative. That process is what inspires me to be a part of librarianship.”
Leontine Synor, Trustee at East Cleveland Public Library
Kyle Cassidy
“Libraries are resources for those who otherwise would not have access to information due to finances, educational achievement, and other barriers. Libraries also serve as a safe space for those who are met with circumstances beyond their control, and provides them a place to learn, interact, ask questions and locate resources.”
Susan K .McClelland, Adult and Teen Services Librarian at Oak Park Public Library
Kyle Cassidy
“Librarians are warrior princes and princesses wielding book love like words! We are ever vigilant, curious, intelligent, and kind. Libraries are the banners that we carry proudly into the fray! Forward, ever Forward!”
Dolly Goyal, Library Director at Los Gatos Library
Kyle Cassidy
“There’s a huge and growing barrier to technology facing a large portion of our population. Millions of people don’t have direct access to technology or understand how to use it. Libraries provide free tools and e-literacy services with patience and compassion.”
Taina Evans, Library Information Supervisor at Brooklyn Public Library
Kyle Cassidy
“Librarians empower users in their pursuit of knowledge, learning, and in discovery and research across all disciplinary fields, transcending race, color, and creed. By far the most valuable institution available to the public for free. I love working here, empowering others.”
Erik Toussaint, Library Program Coordinator at FOKAL (Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty)
Kyle Cassidy
“Libraries are important for getting people to gather and share community values. Their openness to the world facilitates communication and knowledge. Many people cannot afford technology or access to the internet. We need the library to help with that. Without libraries there would be a radical decrease of academic performance, less connection among people of the community, no more space for expression or learning of new skills.”

Images and captions courtesy of Black Dog & Leventhal. This Is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Librarians, Communities, and Access to Information will be published on May 16 and will be available on Amazon or from your local indie bookstore ― or check your local library!

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