Librarianship | Virginia Bigler| September 06, 2017
As part of our Celebrate Libraries campaign, school library media specialist Virginia Bigler of San Antonio shares how a love of reading shaped her life.
I was the fourth child born to parents who were dirt-poor in a small South Texas town. My mother dropped out of high school in ninth grade. My dad finished high school and went to work on the railroad to provide for a young, growing family. A girl and then two boys came along in quick succession, and I followed after four years. So my young, uneducated mother struggled to raise four young children on almost no money. The one gift my mother gave us, without ever knowing it was a gift, was a love of reading. She always had a book by her bedside, and I remember always seeing her read. I know now she read to escape an extremely hard life. Those books by her bedside were Harlequin romances, but that didn’t matter. I saw her reading, and I modeled that behavior.
We always had books in our house. We didn’t have The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. We couldn’t afford them. We had a knock-off series called The Happy Hollisters. I didn’t know it wasn’t the real thing. I loved those books. My favorite, though, was an old, dusty copy with mold on the cover of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I didn’t even know who C.S. Lewis was or that there were six more books in that wonderful series. I was Lucy, the youngest of four, and I spent my childhood escaping regularly into Narnia, hanging out with Mr. Tumnus, being scared to death of The White Witch, and learning how you could love and be terrified all at once of your hero when Aslan made his appearance toward the end of the novel.
One of my favorite summer memories is of Mama taking us to the public library every two weeks. My town’s claim to fame is that it is the home of Vice President John Nance Garner. The library was in Garner’s mansion on a pecan tree-lined street in a part of town that was built with old money. The only reason I would ever have had to go to any of those stately old mansions was because Garner’s home now held the town museum downstairs and the library upstairs. I loved looking through the museum, which had on display a beautiful fringed cowgirl dress that had belonged to another one-time resident of our town: Dale Evans. I would dream of being a cowgirl movie star, and then trek upstairs to check out biographies of my heroines: Annie Oakley and Amelia Earhart. When I was younger, I would check out the most magical picture books about Raggedy Ann and Andy. My mom or big sister would read those books to me, and I would get lost in the lush illustrations by Johnny Gruelle and dream of drinking root beer floats from a tree.
The one gift my mother gave us, without ever knowing it was a gift, was a love of reading.
When it was time to leave the library, we would walk out on the lush, green, carpet grass lawn, and sometimes John Nance Garner himself, now in his 90s, would be sitting on a lawn chair. Sometimes he would be whittling away at a piece of wood, and other times he would be shelling pecans. But he was always available for a conversation and would sometimes retreat to his living quarters and come back with popsicles for the kids.
When I look back at my childhood, there is no doubt in my mind that books saved my life. My brothers both dropped out of high school and struggled all their lives. One died at age 40 and one at 48, both of alcohol-related causes. Alcoholism ran rampant in my family, but I was lucky enough not to have inherited that gene, I guess. But my sister and I went on to college and dedicated our lives as teachers to helping young people. I got a master’s degree, worked as a marriage and family therapist, an English and theater arts teacher, and finally a librarian. My life has been happy and my work fulfilling and rewarding. When I look back and ask what was different, I can point directly at one thing: BOOKS. I always read, and reading always helped me transcend my current situation. Reading gave me understanding, compassion, and true empathy, and helped me learn how to really get into others’ skin and see what their world was like. Reading opened the world to me. Reading saved my life. No wonder I became a librarian.
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Virginia Bigler has been a Library Media Specialist with Northside ISD in San Antonio, Texas, for 10 years. She will be opening Harlan High School, San Antonio's newest high school, this year. She's passionate about teens and libraries, and the direction libraries are taking. Her favorite thing to do when she isn't working is to spend time kayaking down South Texas rivers.
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