“If you’re a librarian today, you probably don’t hear this very often, but thank you. Thank you for making a difference in people’s lives.” ~Wil Wheaton, Mensa annual meeting, July 2016
Wil Wheaton is a writer and actor, most well known as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation and a fictionalized version of himself on the Big Bang Theory.
He recently gave the keynote address at the 2016 American Mensa annual meeting. His speech was titled: “Mental Hopscotch: if I’m so smart, why is my brain so dumb?” The title comes from his life-long struggle with depression and anxiety.
Wil was bullied as a child for his self-professed geekiness. Not easy that, but Wil has since embraced being a geek, and empowers others to do the same. He credits science fiction, a library, and a librarian for changing his life for the better:
“In third or fourth grade, part of our curriculum was a monthly trip to a local library in Tujunga, California. One of the librarians would read us a short story, give a short talk about a literacy-related topic, and then let us pick a book off a table of paperbacks that we could keep. We were also allowed – no, encouraged – to check out up to three books, which we would have a month to read.
I was a nerdy, shy, awkward kid who was scared of everything, and the library intimidated me; I never knew where to start, I was afraid I’d pick a book that the Cool Kids would tease me about reading, and I always felt lost in the stacks. This librarian, though, reached out to me. She asked me what sort of things I liked on TV and in the movies, and recommended a few different books based on my answers, including the first real SciFi book I can recall reading, Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien. I loved it so much, when I went back the next month, she taught me how to use the card catalog to find other books like it, entirely on my own. On that day, the library was transformed from a confusing and intimidating collection of books into a thousand different portals through time and space to fantastic worlds for me to explore.
I don’t remember her name, but I do remember that she was in her fifties, wore epic 1970s polyester pantsuits, huge glasses that hung from a long gold chain around her neck, and had a hairdo that was ten miles high. She was friendly and helpful, and when she reached out to that nerdy little kid, she changed his life. If you’re a librarian today, you probably don’t hear this very often, but thank you. Thank you for making a difference in people’s lives.”
Wil’s experience underscores the important role of librarians and libraries as pathways to knowledge and literacy. Not to mention safe places for nerds and geeks.
On that note, check out one of my favourite blogs, Send in the Librarians, written by two librarians working in England. They write about “public libraries, books and all things novel.” Their blog introduced me to My Library By Right, a British campaign encouraging citizens “to stand up for your legal rights to quality library services.”
Back to Wil. Here is part of his Mensa speech–he is very funny:
Read Wil Wheaton’s full speech on his blog.
Photo credit: Mensa