Librarian Confidential: Sophie Brookover
Why Libraries are the Hearths of Their Communities
Sophie Brookover is the Program Coordinator & Social Media Manager for LibraryLinkNJ, the New Jersey Library Cooperative. According to her Goodreads shelves, her favorite reads are children’s fantasy, the lives of vinegary ladies (fictional and real), and anything about the Plantagenets and Tudors. She is basically always librarianing in the wild, frequently on Twitter.
What’s your earliest library memory?
I think it must be a combo pack of getting my first library card (cardboard, with a little metal plate in the bottom left-hand corner that had my card number embossed on it) and that supremely satisfying “cha-CHUNK” sound of the machine the librarian used to check out my books in the children’s room of my hometown library (where I now take my daughter).
When did you decide to become a librarian? What was the process?
I was working a very boring job as an editorial assistant at a medical publishing company. I hated it, which was an excellent motivator for me to think about what else I’d rather be doing with my life, and I remembered how much I’d enjoyed my previous job, as a part-time research assistant for a small museum consulting firm. I’d gotten to visit archives and the Library of Congress and fine arts libraries, and though I loved doing the research itself, what I really wanted to do was be the person who helped others find the information they were looking for. I applied to three or four programs and wound up attending the University of Toronto.
Who’s your favorite fictional librarian?
I am hugely stereotypical, in that I passionately wish there were way more fictional librarians, but also kind of hate the ones we have so far. I try not to think about it too much. Rupert Giles is probably my favorite, although he is a ghastly Luddite, which I emphatically am not.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a librarian?
I was born about 15 years too late to start a magazine, but editorial is my other dream job. I love stories, I love contextualizing information and ideas for curious people, I love giving feedback to help others make their work the best it can be. I aspire to be the Tim Gunn, crossed with Ursula Nordstrom, of my set.
What’s your favorite section in the library (aside from your own)?
The magazine section. I ♥ periodicals so much! My other unfashionable fave is print reference. I maintain a strong just-in-case humanities collection at home, which I consult pretty regularly (current high-use items include Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, Home Comforts, by Cheryl Mendelson, and Butler’s Lives of the Saints).
If you had infinite space (and budget) what would you add to your library?
This is a little complicated, since I don’t work for a specific library anymore. I work for a library cooperative serving all different types of libraries throughout New Jersey, so I get a real bird’s-eye view of what’s going on in libraryland. This is perfect for a generalist/dilettante like me, who always wants to know what’s going on, everywhere. I think the thing I’d most like to invent is an instant time-and-space teleportation version of an interstate, inter-library subway system, so people from all different types of libraries could visit and learn from each other, without having to deal with the terrible hassle of traffic. A system of TARDISes, basically. We can do that, right?
What do you love about your library?
This is so schmoopy, but it’s also true, so! I love getting to serve and work with the people who work in our school, public, academic and special libraries. Two big parts of my job are exploring short and long-term trends in librarianship, and making it possible for our member libraries to nurture their communities’ dreams. That’s really powerful. I am very privileged to work with some of the best library people in the business, and they make me better at my job—lucky me, it’s the opposite of a vicious cycle.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened in your library?
At one public library where I worked, I was a teen librarian, and behind our youth services desk was a wall of windows looking out onto a small lake. The lake froze over every winter, and the ducks who frequented it would manage to keep a little area by the shore free from ice with all their swimming. One day, the local red-tailed hawk swooped in and dismembered a duck right there on the ice. Blood, feathers, and duck entrails were everywhere! It was disgusting and fascinating, and nobody could look away. The children were very drawn to it, and the savviest caregivers took the opportunity to talk with them about nature, red in tooth and claw.
Who’s your favorite regular, and why?
When I was a high school librarian, my favorite regular was a student who was an English language learner. Written English was a challenge for her, but as a reader, she was fearless and voracious, especially in fantasy and horror. Once she trusted me to guide her to authors she liked, she’d visit every week and check out a stack of books. Best of all, she was an excellent hand-seller of books to her friends. She’s long since graduated, and I like to imagine her doing great readers’ advisory in college and at her workplace.
What are people without current library cards missing out on?
Everything! Whether it’s on campus or miles down the road, the library is the hearth of the community. We gather around it for warmth of spirit and mind. It’s full of dedicated people who want to help you find that just-right book, teach your grandmother how to use the tablet you got her for her birthday, help you find your next job or share how singing to your baby niece can set her up to be a lifelong learner. They will welcome you with open arms, whether they saw you last week or have never laid eyes on you. Go! They’ll upgrade you!