Sarah Bell

Retired Librarian – A Life of Service the Golden Rule Way

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Arts, Community Service, Education, Golden Rule

Sarah Bell lives in Sitka, Alaska, where she was a high school librarian for 26 years before becoming a director of a public library. She just recently retired. The Golden Rule is really important to her. Find out how Sarah serves others and has made community outreach a way of life.

What did you love about working in the library?
Most librarians really love the treasure hunt. If people come to us with questions or a need, we're going to find whatever bit of information they're looking for, or that book that's "kind of orange and is about a horse." I love that aspect of service. I also love the variety of my day. I end up learning about a wide array of things, from what interests other people to which authors they love. Learning something new—that freshness—is wonderful.

How did you decide to become a librarian?
I have been a library kid since I was really little. In San Francisco, CA we were fortunate to have a library in our school. When we moved to Richmond, CA there was no school library. I remember there was a door between the adult and kid section at the public library. We weren't allowed into the adult section unless we had permission. My parents gave me permission, so I was able to direct my own curiosity. Libraries allow you to go foraging through a wide array of books and subjects so that you find out what's exciting to you. What's so wonderful about the library is that the kids get to make the selection. I remember feeling so grown up getting to choose my own books. I like helping others feel the same way I did.

How have you used the Bible in your work?
As a director at the public library, I was working with staff who were all smart, nice … and all individuals. The Golden Rule was extremely helpful. It's a simple rule, but I think simple is often best. Sometimes we make things too complicated. If we treat others the way we want to be treated, and if we are loving God and putting God first, everything else falls into place.

I also was able to be loving towards the small percentage of patrons who didn't really need to be there at a particular time because they were inebriated or had a different issue that was disturbing to the atmosphere. People are often disgusted by the homeless or wretched; but most of the time, these folks need love more than anybody. There's nobody giving them a hug, or saying, "Sleep well," or asking, "How are you feeling today?"

One of the very bright individuals dealing with substance abuse while I was there is the nephew of a famous author. There was an article about his aunt in The Christian Science Monitor. I clipped out the article and gave it to him, saying, "I understand you're related to her." He couldn't believe that anyone would do that for him. Because I saw the article, cut it out, and gave it to him, I was his best friend for a long time. He kept coming back, and if he wasn't acting like himself on a given day, I would just say, "I don't think you're feeling well today, but do come back when you're feeling better."

It sounds like the Golden Rule grounded your work and uplifted others.
Practicing the Golden Rule in my work with my staff and the public, as well as with the high school students, was probably the most important thing that I had to do; yet it had nothing to do with books or resource material. I think that any success that we have with individuals comes back to this law of kindness.

If you're clear about your purpose—which is service first—and keep that out in front of you all the time, everything is easier. Then you don't feel badly about having to correct or change something. If we understand that we're not here for personal attention or acclaim, then we always have our motivation clear. And isn't that fundamentally what Christianity is about—service and humility? When we serve God and others, we're able to be successful. If we lose track of this, which we all do from time to time, and try to take a short cut, we find out it doesn't really work out.

How did working at the public library differ from the high school?
When I was in the school library for 26 years, I ran it like I wanted to run it. I didn't have to consider others' needs because I worked alone. Becoming a director at the public library was a big learning experience for me. I had 7-10 other people working for me, and we were open 7 days a week. Keeping the lines of communication always open was something I had to learn. I prayed and practiced to be inclusive and mindful of people. I wanted to be considerate and loving so they would do their best and be mindful of others.

How did you pray?
I had many opportunities to turn to God in prayer. When there were lots of opinions and many opportunities for conflict, I affirmed that God is the only Mind—the only Mind of everyone. So we could find harmonious solutions, and we did. There were times when people thought I didn't do things correctly, and they would let me know. Instead of reacting, I responded. I would take their comments under advisement. Sometimes I would modify my decision, and sometimes I wouldn't. I continually reminded myself that we all have the same Father-Mother. All of us working there wanted to serve others.

It sounds like service is so much a part of your life. Now that you're retired, how do you serve?
I continue my work in the community. I have a radio show once a week. I get to invite people in from town to talk about books. It's a lot of fun for me. I'm on the board of the Sitka trail works. We've worked to develop quite a trail system. There are daily ways to serve. Sitka is not on a road system. If you want something to happen, you turn to someone and have immediate help. We rely on each other. Helping others is a way of life.