An Interview with Mefi's Own Jessamyn April 22, 2019 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Jessamyn West on Intellectual Freedom, Creepy Basements, and the Library as a Safe Space. An interview with Jessamyn, as part of a new series called Secrets of the Librarians, just posted on the LitHub Bookmarks blog. Yay, Jessamyn!
posted by Stanczyk to MetaFilter-Related at 7:56 AM (22 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

Only complaint is that it is too short of an interview.
posted by terrapin at 8:26 AM on April 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

I was very pleased to see Jessamyn mention Richard Brautigan's The Abortion, a book I got a lot out of as a young person.
posted by Orlop at 10:02 AM on April 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Everyone should visit a library creepy basement once in their life.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 10:24 AM on April 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

One of my dearest library memories is of the times in high school when I got to ask for the key to the attic of the public (the World War Memorial) library to find some reference for a school assignment. I don't remember it being creepy. :-)

There was a time when the building was being renovated for apartments - I don't know how that's going currently - but I would love to live in the library!
posted by jaruwaan at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2019

Oh - and meant to say, cool to read this interview, and I agree, it is way too short.
posted by jaruwaan at 11:51 AM on April 22, 2019

Everyone should visit a library creepy basement once in their life.

My hometown library was the creepy basement for the historical society.

At least, the top shelves were; it's a tiiiiiiiny little library housed in the old bank from the 1800's or something. it didn't have an enormous collection, so the town historical society used it to display some of the more offbeat curios, like this statue of Bacchus that a bunch of British POWs carved during the Revolutionary War. That occupied pride of place right over the door so you could see it when you were leaving.

My first job was doing the cleaning there for an hour on weekends; vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning windows. Took me about an hour. And on my first day I remember puttering along, dusting the tops of all the bookshelves, reminding myself not to browse the books (I was so tempted though), and at one point I climbed the stepladder they had for me up to the top of one shelf and was startled to see a World War I pickelhaube helmet sitting there. It took me ten seconds to recover enough to notice the card underneath that stated that it had been presented to the town because of a lucrative war bond effort; still not something you expect to see.

That job lasted a year and periodically I would continue to turn up other weird stuff tucked into corners and perched on high shelves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:02 PM on April 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Brautigan Library.

This American Life on the Brautigan Library: Book Fishing in America.
posted by Stanczyk at 3:24 PM on April 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't think we have a basement, and if we do, I don't want to know about it.

Dammit now I have to know.

We don't have a basement.
posted by lyssabee at 5:51 PM on April 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Everyone should visit a library creepy basement once in their life.

My junior college library before it was put in a new building was, sorta in the basement. I did work-study there. It was neat.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:42 PM on April 22, 2019

Our local library had (for a time in the 70s) an addition that was connected to the old library via a very creepy corridor, which was thrilling to walk down as a kid. Excellent interview; I would have loved it to be longer (and, come to think of it, I'd love for the creepy corridor to have been longer, as well)!
posted by xingcat at 5:59 AM on April 23, 2019

When I was young, the children's section of our little public library was in a basement of a former home turned "Wilmington Light Infantry Building", turned into a library.

There was nothing creepy there; it was gloriously filled with books! (Well, the stairs were a bit creepy.) My mom allowed us to check out only 7 books a week, alas. The check out desk was on the main floor of the beautiful high-ceilinged main hall.
posted by mightshould at 6:06 AM on April 23, 2019

The library I work in is located in a College of Veterinary Medicine, so in our building we have tons of skeletons scattered about the place (including two that live in the library), some surgical theaters (with viewing windows), and a morgue. My wife used to be a veterinary nurse in the emergency department here, and had to go down to the morgue in the middle of the night on numerous occasions. Based on her descriptions, I will NOT be visiting the morgue. If you have a morbid mind, you might ask her about the time she went down there one dark night to discover a whale dissection had occurred earlier in the day...

I just recently read The Abortion, based on that TAL episode, and I really liked the parts about the library. I even had a bit of a back-and-forth with one of my library school professors about whether or not it was organized enough to even count as a library.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:52 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of my large laments about raising a child in Chile as opposed to a richer country is how sparse and shitty the public libraries are. The country's largest public library, which is a good 45 minute drive from my house, is about as good as a local branch library in a rich country. At least his school has a decentish library, but he's never known the grandeur of a good library.
posted by signal at 10:05 AM on April 23, 2019

Really enjoyed this interview! As a child whose haven was the public library, I have had a lifelong fondness for librarians.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:09 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

6 questions and managed to get a story about fisting in. Awesome.

Seriously though, I love my local library. The cast of characters that hang out there, I have given names to in my head as well as created long back stories for all of them. They are probably all suburban average people irl, but in my head,...
posted by AugustWest at 11:42 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

They were all like "I'm not sure we can get that in."
And I was like "Well can you at least try?"

posted by jessamyn (retired) at 11:59 AM on April 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

jessamyn: "They were all like "I'm not sure we can get that in."
And I was like "Well can you at least try?"


I see what you did there.
posted by AugustWest at 1:12 PM on April 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Derailing a moment, but not entirely derailing, to thank Jessamyn and all our other Mefite librarians (including you lurkers, yes I know you’re there). Thank you for your service.

Seriously, if the US survives as a democracy, it will be in part thanks to your amazing work. You and the teachers: heroes.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 8:49 PM on April 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

heyyyyyy nice
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:35 PM on April 23, 2019

Having no better place to note it, I will mention here that Jessamyn (or her name, at least), shows up as a character in Jim C. Hines' book Terminal Uprising (book 2 of Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse), where several characters are named after famous librarians of pre-apocalyptic yore.
posted by kyrademon at 1:04 AM on April 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Someone told me that recently and I just about died. Also I am reading Susan Orelan's Library Book and I have to say it may be the best written book about library stuff that I have ever read (and I have read many) about the LAPL fire back in the 60s. It's also a tactile experience, made to look like a much older book with a lot of weird and fancy attention to detail. I've always been an Orelan fan but now I am just 😍
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 7:27 AM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

"we let you read whatever the heck you want, even if you’re a kid"

One of the most transformative moments in my life was at the age of 8 when the librarian let me check out what were clearly adult topic books. I could, and did, read ANYTHING!

YAY Librarians!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:34 PM on April 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

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