Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Learning | World's Strongest Librarian

A few months ago, a friend recommended a new book called The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne. It sounded interesting, but I was busy reading a few other books, so I mentally put it on my "get around to reading that someday" list. That's a really long list, by the way.

I nearly forgot about it, until the last day of the Internet Librarian conference in Monterey in late October. The closing keynote speaker was none other than Josh Hanagarne. I heard the buzz of excitement as people talked about it the rest of the day, in between those last few sessions. 

I had not remembered Josh's name, but I did remember the title of his book, and that somebody had recommended it. Something about weight training with a guy who has Asperger's syndrome. Had my friend recommended it to me because of my family's experiences with autistic spectrum disorders? I even remembered the picture on the cover, with a strong man bearing the weight of a seemingly infinite stack of books on his back.

The presentations ended, and we all assembled in a big auditorium to hear the final keynote address. Somebody decided to retract the giant screen that was hanging at the bag of the stage; as the noisy motor started, I heard a bark.  A few minutes later, Steven Abrams began introducing the speaker, who clearly had some tics. Indeed, shortly after he took over the podium, he told us he had Tourette's. He also told us about the strangest comment he had from an audience member--in which he was declared more handsome than Nelson Mandela.

He talked about many of the themes you would expect, if you have read his book: his wonderful family; his struggle to cope with Tourette's; and the central importance of books and libraries for his entire life.

He told touching stories of his interactions with library patrons, many of whom have been down on their luck, and what those patrons have taught him.

He talked a little bit about the physical training that helps him battle his tics.

He also revealed his love of words.  He asked the audience what they thought he told his mother he wanted as a graduation gift, when he earned a college degree. Somehow, even before he said it, I knew he wanted the two-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary. I don't know how I knew that, but I happen to have the same set in my den. Yes, I got it shortly after I graduated from college. I still treasure it.

He talked about what libraries mean to the public: freedom.  He shared something he learned, from looking up the history of words.  At some point in the past, the verbs love and free meant the same thing. To love is to free.

Josh is a wonderful speaker, and he deserved the standing ovation we gave him. 

Right after the speech finished, I got on my tablet and went to SSJCPL's website to reserve his book. It was waiting for me on the hold shelf when I came back to work that Saturday. I finished it in a couple of days. I probably would have finished it in one day, if real life didn't have a way of interfering with my reading time.

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