Everyone from authors and politicians to a former first lady and a comic book character once worked among the bookshelves at a library.
1. Mao Zedong
Before he led the Communist Party of China, Mao Zedong worked as a librarian's assistant at Peking University between 1918 and 1919. He needed a job, and earned only $8 a month carrying periodicals to the readers and organizing shelves. "My office was so low that people avoided me," he once said.
2. J. Edgar Hoover
The future FBI director got his start in government when he worked at the Library of Congress while attending night school at George Washington Law School. At GWU, you had to be a government employee to attend night school. He started as a messenger, but soon rose in rank to cataloger, then clerk. While working at the Library of Congress, Hoover mastered the Dewey Decimal System, which became the model for the FBI's Central Records System.
3. Laura Bush
The former first lady holds a masters degree in library science from the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to teaching in the public schools, she was a librarian in the Houston, Dallas, and Austin school systems. Bush used her passion and enthusiasm for reading during her time in the White House, launching (with Congress) the first National Book Festival in 2001.
4. Lewis Carroll
The author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass served as sub-librarian at Christ Church, Oxford University. The library was perfect job site for this avid reader: Carroll kept track of the library's books and their borrowers in addition to tutoring students and lecturing in mathematics.
5. Jorge Luis Borges
Although he never won the Nobel Prize for his literary achievements in Latin America and beyond, writer and scholar Jorge Luis Borges did work as a public librarian in Buenos Aires. When Juan Perón became president of Argentina, he appointed Borges—who had "anti-Perón political affiliates," according to Paul S. Piper in the journal American Libraries—to a poultry inspector position (Borges, however, resigned). Once Perón fell from power, Borges was appointed director of the Biblioteca Nacional, but stepped down when Perón regained control of Argentina in 1973. While serving in this prestigious position, Borges also taught literature at the University of Buenos Aires.
6. Giovanni Giacomo Casanova
The world's greatest lover worked for 13 years at the castle of Count Waldstein in Dux, Bohemia. Down on his luck and low on funds, Casanova asked for a favor, since the occultist count was known to have an affinity for fellow adventurers and fascinating people. Casanova set out to catalog the count's more than 40,000 volumes and clean the library, but he spent most of his time writing. It was there that he wrote his famous Memoirs.
7. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe explained his passion for the details of a librarian's job when he said, "The library organization proceeds little by little, slowly enough. I hold my course, and seek to push on from section to section. I profit occasionally from an hour of poetry, or a bit of scientific knowledge." Goethe worked at the Weimer Library, one of the most important libraries in Germany, where he meticulously organized and cataloged. His success here led to other branches asking for his help.
When cleaning and organizing the disarrayed Jena library, Goethe needed more room for books, and his request to use an empty room was denied. He was determined to succeed, so much so that he broke through the brick wall to complete his project. Later, because the dampness of the library was damaging to the books, Goethe wanted to break down a city wall, and did the same thing.
8. Eratosthenes of Cyrene
In addition to measuring Earth's circumference, Greek mathematician and geographer Eratosthenes served as head librarian at the library of Alexandria, and also personally tutored the Greek-speaking king of Egypt. Alexandria was considered the scientific and cultural center of the world in the 3rd century BCE, and being a head librarian gave Eratosthenes the reputation of a universal scholar. He was a model bibliographer and possessed an all-around broad knowledge of many fields of study.
9. Beverly Cleary
After studying at the school of librarianship at the University of Washington in Seattle, she took the job, where she enjoyed interacting with all sorts of children. Cleary's favorite guests were the ones who had homemade roller skates and scooters and asked her, "Where are the books about us?" Cleary answered by writing dozens of children's classics, the first of which featured Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy.
When DC Comics wanted to generate female interest, a "grown-up" version of Batgirl appeared in January 1967 in Detective Comics #359. In this later incarnation (the original character, Bat-Girl, had been created in 1961), Barbara Gordon was the grown daughter of a police commissioner and worked as a librarian. She only began her crime-fighting career by accident, breaking up a robbery when she happened to be wearing her Halloween costume. Who was the victim of this crime? Bruce Wayne, of course!
A version of this story ran in 2013; it has been updated for 2021.