Kyle Cassidy has been sharing stories about life and its experiences since the 1990’s. Insightful and interesting, his work has spotlighted people from across the world. A few years ago, he was dared by a librarian to attend a conference of the American Library Association and photograph some librarians. An unplanned library convention visit, viral magazine post, 300 librarians and 2 years later, he has released his latest work- This is What a Librarian Looks Like. The book not only features insight from librarians, but also interviews from authors who appreciate and value their work.
As part of Ingram’s #TheLibraryLife initiative, we have interviewed Kyle about his experiences while creating this book. He will also be joining Ingram at booth 3226 during the ALA 2017 conference in Chicago for some in-booth activities and book signings! Make sure you stop by, grab a copy of the book and share your story about #TheLibraryLife! You can also meet him at the everylibrary.org book release and fundraising party at Old Crow River North starting at 8:00 pm.
Q: How did the work for this book come about?
A: A librarian named Naomi Gonzalez contacted me on Twitter. “@kylecassidy,” she asked, “are you aware that there will be LIBRARIANS in your city this month?? Just saying. We are friendly and fabulously photogenic.” That was it. I wrote back, she connected me with some people, we set up a photo shoot. I photographed a group of librarians. I photographed them and did interviews — I hadn’t really thought about what the photos were going to be used for, I figured they might just end up on my blog, so the question I asked was “If I could put you in front of 50,000 people, what would you tell them about libraries?” And they started telling me and I realized while this was happening that I was the exact audience for what they were saying — they were talking to me and telling me what I needed to know about libraries — because I hadn’t been in a library in a decade. The more they talked the more excited I got, and I realized that a) this was something really big, b) libraries were in trouble and c) there was something I could do about it. Then I thought, “Ok, how can I get people like me to hear this?” I went to Jordan Teicher at SLATE, he ran it, and it went insane viral.
Q What was your favorite part of this process?
A: Meeting all these incredibly intelligent and passionate people and hearing their stories. Making photos has been great, and there are some images I’m really proud of taking. I’m glad to have been able to shine a light and amplify voices. It’s all been wonderful really.
Q: What are some things you learned about libraries that you were unfamiliar with before this project?
A: Libraries are not warehouses of books. Libraries are about knowledge, access and civilization. Some of that is books, but some of it is computers, medical journals, artifacts, some of it is forward thinking about the way data is preserved, maintained, and distributed. I learned that libraries shape themselves to fit their constituency. That some things I’ve been taking for granted, like access to the Internet or computers, or air conditioning, are things that not everybody has, but things that libraries are working to make sure everybody has access to. That libraries exist and are just as essential in the digital age that they’ve adapted to technology.
Q: Were there any stories that were extremely emotionally stirring?
A: Yes. Briony Zlomke Beckstrom, a librarian from Wisconsin started a program to loan dolls to children who couldn’t afford to buy them. I burst into tears of joy while talking to her on an escalator and nobody reads that chapter with a dry eye. And Candice Mack from the Los Angeles Central Library who realized that some of the kids coming to her reading programs were homeless so she started a lunch program to get them food. When all the other safety nets get pulled away, libraries are expanding what they do to catch as many people as they can.
Q: How did the vision of this book change as you interviewed more and more librarians?
A: I think my vision of it stayed pretty constant — which was “put librarians in front of as many people as you can, let them tell you what they’re doing, how they can help you and how you can help them.” It was a really simple idea, and the things that changed were my publishers. When I received my contract it discussed photos and writing 40,000 words. So then I realized that I needed to create words other than the librarian’s stories.
Q: What are your hopes for this book?
A: I hope that this book connects people with libraries. I hope it puts libraries on people’s radar and that they pay attention when there’s a bill up in the state legislature about saving .003% of the state’s budget by closing the libraries on Tuesdays or something. But really I’d like for people to become aware of the really broad group of services that libraries are offering and that librarians are powering. I want people to go “oh!” when they meet a librarian at a party in the same way they’d go “oh!” if they met an astronaut at a party. I want people to walk away thinking “these people are amazing, they’re doing amazing work and I want to help, however I can."