I think I was in graduate school when the idea was first proposed to me. I was doing some outreach at an elementary school—working with an after school group– we made puppets and put on a puppet show. I was working on an individual study of puppetry; I needed this experience as much as they needed a new face and something different to do. One of the after-school staff was also working on a degree; he was in Seminary school. He asked about me, I told him I was working on my MLS. To become a Librarian. “Oh,” he said, “so you are a missionary too.”
Since then, I’ve warmed to the idea. When I go out to the local hospital, to the Mom & Baby group, to talk about how important reading is, and end up assuring the young mother who is speaking both Russian and English to her child that she is doing the right thing, I feel like a missionary. When the church group asks me to come talk to them about books and I mention Captain Underpants and they admit that their sons love the books and I tell them it is ok to let them read those, I feel pretty good about my job. When I explain to my boss why we need a DDR pad and a PlayStation for the teens, I feel like I’ve done a good deed for humanity. Sitting on a committee that critically analyzes recorded children’s literature and creates a list of best audios that helps libraries determine how best to spend their budget feels right. Creating a Summer Reading Program that gets kids excited about reading makes me happy (a mantra I have to repeat over and over at times).
So maybe we ARE missionaries. We go out and spread the good word about reading. We tell the world—practically anyone who will listen—how important, how fun, how life-changing books can be. We remind our friends, our neighbors, our relatives, our elected officials, and our governments how important libraries are and how much we need their support. We untiringly find funds to help run our programs. We’d go door to door and proselytize if our libraries would let us (and I’d be willing to bet that some of you have done this on your own time, come an election). We stand on street corners with signs, proclaiming the importance of books and freedom to read. We spend our spare time reading good books, so that we can tell others just how good those books are.
So, keep fighting the good fight. We are the Reading Missionaries, and without us, where would the world be? A big question indeed.