What a Library Means to Me: Save the Books Essay Contest Winner Now a Librarian

Cindy Holsey, Young Adult Librarian, Northridge Branch Library,
Cindy Holsey
Cindy Holsey

It was a typical day in my 11th grade English class, except my teacher offered a rare extra credit opportunity—to write a 100-word essay on the topic, "What a Library Means to Me." She explained that our essays would be submitted to the "Save the Books" essay contest, part of an effort to raise funds for the Los Angeles Central Library after the devastating fire earlier that year. I don't recall if I'd heard about the fire, but I was upset to learn that the fire was due to arson, and figured it wouldn't take much time to write an "essay" that was really only a paragraph. However, I procrastinated and almost didn't write it, until my dad pressured me to do it. Here's what I wrote:

The library is a place in which I bring my fantasies to life. Upon entering, my ethnic background and social and economic position become unimportant; for the ability to read is my sole passport into the vibrant world of dreams and illusions. The library is a means of transportation into the past, present and future. I determine my destination when selecting a book from the shelf. I may enter the jungles of South America, eat a hearty meal with the Pilgrims, or embark on a mission into the abyss of space. The possibilities are infinite. In the library, I escape into a world with no boundaries.

Well, I'm glad my dad pressured me, because a month or so later, I received the surprising and incredible news that my essay was selected as one of the 25 winners from over 20,000 entries. It felt like winning the lottery (or what I imagine that would feel like)! The prize was a free trip for two to London, New York or Frankfurt, the book publishing capitals of the world. The following summer, I went to London with my parents—my first trip abroad which inspired me to return and live in the UK after college, and continue to travel the world as an adult.

LA Times ad announcing the Save the Books contest winner

Los Angeles Times ad announcing the Save the Books contest winners

As if all of this wasn't enough, a subgroup of winners (including myself) received an invitation to appear on the Michael Jackson Show on KABC Talkradio. Before the show began, we had the opportunity to meet one of the contest judges, author Irving Stone. Next, we took our seats in the studio and read our essays on the air. I remember feeling really nervous and hoping my voice wouldn't shake. Then author Isaac Asimov called in to the show and answered any questions that we or other listeners had for him. At some point, the group also posed for photos.

Michael Jackson, Cindy Holsey, and author Irving Stone

Talk radio host Michael Jackson, Cindy Holsey, and author Irving Stone

Thirty-two years later, as I complete a different writing assignment (this blog), I feel like I've come full circle. Little did I know as a teenager that the same organization I supported with my extra-credit essay would one day be my employer and home as a librarian. And the words I wrote in 1986 about "what a library means to me" still hold true today. I imagine they always will.