At the National Book Festival, every author is assigned to a volunteer to escort them from event to event. This past September I was lucky enough to have Leslie Long get me to where I was supposed to be. She was incredibly kind and gracious—and helpful! As we talked, I learned that she worked at the Library of Congress as a book conservator. She spent her days mending books that were in dire need of care in order to be preserved. When I mentioned that I would return to D.C. in October for a reading at the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress, she told me that she would love to show me where she worked. And she lit up when I mentioned my daughter would be with me. Leslie kept to her word and met us at my event on Wednesday. She guided Zoe and I through the underground tunnels between buildings, and we arrived at a door with a big red stop sign on it. This was not a place for tourists. What we saw was like a Santa's Workshop of book repair. "The gang," as Leslie called them, each had their own work bench—and stacks of books that needed attention. Leslie very patiently explained the process of fixing up the books so that they could maintain their historical integrity. Some books were made with hand-made paper in the days before mass production, like the book from 1799 she was currently repairing.
How lucky we were to see the process up close. And how lucky we all are that these artists dedicate their lives to keeping our literature and history in tact for future generations. While we were there, a stack of children's books came in. Included in the pile was a book by Ludwig Bemelmans that had a copyright date of 1940. "Zoe remember that girl you were playing with at the Princeton Book Festival? She is this man's great-granddaughter." Serendipitous.