At the Lambda Literary Awards in May, I met the badass children’s librarian and activist Ingrid Abrams, who is one half of the brilliant creation of Libraries Changed My Life. She asked me to contribute to their Tumblr and I was only too happy to oblige. You can read it here and also below.
I would like to write a very belated thank you note to the librarian who ordered a copy of Sleater Kinney’s Dig Me Out for the Chester County Library in 1997. When I was a teenager in small town Pennsylvania, I’d go to the library once a week and flip through every single one of the compact discs and cassette tapes there, hunting for anything that looked better than the Top 40 on the radio. I discovered Red Hot & Rio, Patsy Cline, a British import of Bjork’s Debut with an unheard bonus track — it was like a treasure hunt. Flip past the Rod Stewart, the Aerosmith, the over-circulated Backstreet Boys album, and there, nestled between them, were the gems.
I hadn’t heard of Sleater Kinney. It felt like I lived planets away from the crucible of riot grrrl and grunge on the west coast. I picked up Dig Me Out because the album featured three unsmiling women with alternative haircuts, including one playing an electric guitar. This will sound strange, but until that moment I had only seen women play acoustic guitar. Seeing a woman play an electric guitar struck a tuning fork deep inside of me — oh, shit.
I checked the album out from the library, and from the moment I put it on my stereo in my Christmas-light decorated bedroom, from those first chords — remember them? — I was changed. I made a copy of the CD on a cassette tape and listened to it over, and over, and over, long after I’d returned the treasured album to the library. At seventeen, the worst place in the world to me was small town Pennsylvania, and the only thing I had to look forward to was getting out. I passed the hours before escaping to college by lying on the nubby carpet in my bedroom, listening to Dig Me Out until the tape warped, and I raced back to the library.My heart leapt when I saw it there, still in the music section, still available to me.
The second track on that album, “One More Hour,” was my mantra: In one more hour I will be gone. Ceremoniously, the morning my parents drove me to Manhattan where I’d be going to college, I listened to that song it on my walkman over and over, slamming the rewind button until it came back. It was finally happening. It was finally coming true.
Years later, I realized that that Sleater Kinney album didn’t appear there by magic. Someone — some librarian — had ordered it. Someone in my boring small town had chosen the albums the library should own. Somebody made it happen. Maybe it was the same librarian who put Annie On My Mind in the YA section for me to discover. Or the librarian who shelved the hardback copy of Queer 13: Gay & Lesbian Writers Recall The Seventh Grade, which I found one afternoon by running a finger along the cellophaned spines of the entire Dewey decimal system until I found something I wanted to read. The magic, perhaps, was that I grew up in a small town with a badass library. And the librarians themselves were the magicians.