Engstrand, Sophia Belzer. Wilma Rogers (New York: Dial, 1941) 352 p.
With a fresh new MLS from Columbia University Wilma takes the train to Milo, Illinois to begin her professional career. The Milo Public Library is a bare little storefront but Wilma sets about to improve it.
She had mentally divided her work into two parts. Outside, she must raise substantial amounts of money, and make the people of Milo aware of, and enthusiastic about, their library. Inside, she must bring the library to the highest possible level of performance and raise the circulation to the point where the demand exceeded the supply, and the people themselves began to clamor for a better library. Then, not even a new building would be too much to suggest. (p. 36-37).
Wilma is enthusiastic and friendly and soon has more people coming to check books out. She also improves the technical aspects of the library such as the catalog and circulation records. While typing a catalog card she explains to a friend, “'Some librarians get a passionate joy out of cataloging …. It gives me a dry kind of satisfaction.'” (p. 88).
Wilma becomes friends with the chairman of the library board who is also the owner of the corn factory where practically everyone in town works. His wife is an artist and rarely visits Milo, but when she does she meets Wilma and is impressed. She donates money for a new library building. Meanwhile Wilma's frequent visits with the chairman cause gossip in the town.
As with every other aspect of librarianship Wilma is ready with ideas about architectural design.
“With so much land,” Wilma was saying, “the building can have depth and breadth instead of great height. The main thing is that every part of it receive much daylight. The second essential is that there be separate rooms for the young children, the adults, and the users of reference material. The book stacks should be open, but placed so that everyone using them must pass close to the librarian's desk. Wherever possible, formality should give way to grace. The library has to make up for the lack of beauty in so many homes. Then, as it is to be a memorial, it must have dignity ….” (p. 185).
And so the new library is built. Wilma organizes a Friends of the Library and begins a story time. Sometimes she muses about aspects of librarianship such as the lack of men in the profession. When the town gossip overtakes her she reflects on her job and life.
The odors, sights, sounds, touch of all the library came crowding into the small office. She felt the books in their order. She smelled the ink of the new books. She weighed in her palms an encyclopedia volume, and sensed the excitement of the chase after a reference question. She felt the hostess-like pleasure of welcoming callers to the library. Even the chafing moments of the library were sweet, compared to not having any more moments here at all....
Librarianship was a gentle world. A world lit by small fires. Giving knowledge, opening blinded eyes, and satisfying minds' thirsts—these were the spiritual call of librarianship. She was served as she served others. (p. 125-126).
Then she says,
“... I told myself that I needed something besides my work; that the town was so limited. He took me out. I began to love him.”
Her mouth grew dry, and the words seemed to peel from it.
“Yes, I fell in love. I said I had a right to life …. But maybe life and love are things librarians have no right to.” (p. 328).
Poor Wilma. First they tried to give her job to the old untrained woman who had mismanaged the library before. Then they wanted to give it to the untrained daughter of a board member. Even though Wilma has to leave Milo, her final victory is to convince the board to hire another trained librarian in her place.