BackTalk: Librarian, or Author?

By Ronald M. Gauthier

Fresh out of college, I was dissuaded from pursuing a writing career by countless stories of embittered and starving writers eking out meager existences as dishwashers or janitors, unpublished and disheartened by rejection letters from agents and publishers. I fled from what I thought would be a torturous reality and dedicated 20 years to social services and librarianship. Librarianship turned out to be the perfect setting to nurture my skills as a writer. A free-flowing world of information, the library environment spurred me to reclaim the dream deferred.

Library as laboratory

As a library branch manager, I am surrounded by rows of books, periodicals, and compact discs. I traverse mounds of data in electronic format, links pulling me like tentacles into a world illuminated through the wide screens of computers. The library has enriched my storytelling and writing and helped me to take my characters on unforeseen paths, enabling them to become more vivid and real.

I once stumbled across an article in National Geographic about the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana, and the breathtaking pictures helped me to develop a scene for my novel Hard Time on the Bayou. The novel I am working on now has been reshaped, expanded, and reworked by information I stumbled across at the library. I sometimes marvel at the information that I have found via interlibrary loan—journal articles that are directly applicable to my novel’s milieu and time period—empowering me with historical facts and subjects so that the fiction I write has credibility for my readers.

Keeping up

In this age of the Internet, libraries are changing. There is now a plethora of information online via Google and other search engines yet few screening devices to determine the validity of information for an overwhelmed writer. Our web pages are great places to start the search, but writers can easily get lost in the maze of information.

Word processing and its divergent features can also be intimidating tools for would-be writers, especially those transitioning from the legal pad and typewriter. Can you imagine Langston Hughes or Walt Whitman forgetting to save a document and watching their masterpieces stumble into oblivion?

Best friends

New generations of library users and writers honing their skills and digging into our resources are finding out that libraries are keeping up with their needs. Library-offered courses on computer use and self-publishing are fostering a new crop of writers. These authors can use our computers to do everything from designing book covers to marketing to book clubs. Author visits at the library motivate them to excel and explore our assets. They can find in the library a reservoir of information ready to rush a wave of ideas for their characters, settings, and plots.

As librarians, we have a special connection with writers. In fact, we are their best friends. We voraciously read book reviews and author interviews in places like Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews to determine if forthcoming or recently published titles are something we need for our patrons. We are keen readers’ advisory specialists. Our knowledge of writers’ works is as broad as agents’ and publishers’, often more so. And we protect their rights to have their works made available to the patron population: we do not censor, discriminate, or object to the subject matter.

I am fortunate to be in two fields that are so supportive of each other. My first two novels have made their way into over 50 libraries nationwide, and I’ve made author appearances at a number of them, including Temple University and Atlanta–Fulton County Public Library System.

The New Orleans Public Library was the first system to order my books and scheduled me as a featured author before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and its libraries. As I plow ahead toward completion of my third novel, the information swarming around me in cyberspace, in books and magazines, and from my library work provides a panoply of questions and answers. Even now I find myself mentally sketching an outline for another book.

Perfect together

My drive to write was inspired by my vicarious relationships with authors like Richard Wright, William Faulkner, Emily Dickinson, and other literary heavyweights. Their works enthrall me. Like them, I want to render bygone eras and resurrect historical places, times, and enigmatic people. I want to create characters who stoke our emotions, evoke us to action, and entertain us.

I have tried to determine if I am a librarian moonlighting as a writer or vice versa. It is difficult when both careers, distinguishable and distinct, are each loved so immensely and are unswervingly fulfilling. I cannot envision one without the other.

Author Information
Ronald M. Gauthier is Assistant Branch Manager, Norcross Branch Library, Gwinnett County Library System, GA. He is the author of Prey for Me: A New Orleans Mystery and Hard Time on the Bayou.

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