Thursday, May 3, 2012


Miss Mesarchik: 

The West Park Branch 

of the Cleveland Public Libraries

See the woman sitting at the desk. That’s Miss Mesarchik, in 1966—our librarian, coach, truth seeker, arbitrator, wry observer, dry wit, book critic, resident sleuth, and in the most professional and business-like manner—our grown-up friend. In my memories of her, she is always attired in “I Love Lucy” style shirt dresses, her wide waist cinched with a narrow matching cloth belt. Miss Mesarchik was shaped like a pear, and her dress’s full skirt covered her hefty thighs and bottom. We always knew when Miss  Mesarchik was coming, for the swishing sound her nylons made rubbing together announced her entrance before she walked into a room. 

She smelled like honeysuckle and black India ink. She could quiet an entire room full of  antsy kids with a deliberate stare and one arched eyebrow, then hold them, entranced, as she wove a magical web of story and adventure. When you were given your first library card—as soon as you could print your whole name—she introduced herself and you were invited to have a little sit, and a little chat, on the chair right next to her desk. Even if you were a shy first grader, she made you feel that you were an engaging conversationalist. She was curious, asking questions, nodding her head, listening intensely, finding out your interests and passions. She would watch you as you chose your own books, but she would always offer another book selection for you to take home, too.  Very often that turned out to be the book you could not put down, the one you read after lights-out under the bed sheet with a flashlight.

She figured out quickly that I was a visual kid, that I loved black and white ink drawings, and she introduced me to a wider variety of books taking advantage of that passion. She gave me Beverly Cleary’s book Emily’s Runaway Imagination, knowing I would fall in love with its illustrators Beth and Joe Krush, knowing that I would then have to read Gone Away Lake, The Borrowers, and the All of a Kind Family books that Beth and Joe Krush illustrated. She knew I loved Ernest Shepard’s illustrations from the Pooh books and Wind in the Willows, so she introduced me to his daughter’s illustrations and I discovered Mary Poppins.  She had a deep knowledge and understanding of children’s literature, and her knowledge and understanding of kids was even greater. For those of us who sought story to enrich our dreams and information to make those dreams comes true, and for those of us who needed warmth and a healthy escape from chaotic homes, Miss Mesarchik created a safe and nurturing haven.

Miss Mesarchik was the children’s librarian at the West Park branch of the Cleveland Public Library. So when my Horn Book magazine arrived this month, it was with great interest that I read Barbara Bader’s article "Cleveland and Pittsburgh Create a Profession." It was fascinating to learn that our Miss Mesarchik was part of a grand tradition of outstanding young people’s librarians in Cleveland.

Miss Mesarchik changed my life. Dedicated librarians around the country change kids’ lives every day. I wish every kid in America had a witty and observant reading guide like Miss Mesarchik, as well as access to a great neighborhood library, like my old West Park Cleveland branch—especially when school libraries are disappearing all over the country. But right now, thousands of  kids don’t have either one—they have no one like  Miss Mesarchik in their lives and they don’t have ready access to a library and books. That’s the choice we are making right now, as a nation and a society.  We talk a lot in this country about how important our children are, but we don’t back our words with real money and support. Something to think about in this very important presidential election year. 

Mary Brigid Barrett
President and Executive Director 
The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance