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StoryCorps: A Joy Of Reading, Sparked By A Special Librarian Determined To 'Make A Difference'

Jhaleh Akhavan for StoryCorps
Rich Jean; his daughter, Abigail Jean; and librarian Hasina Islam at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2016.

When Rich Jean wanted to help his daughter, Abigail, learn to read, he took her to the library near their home in Brooklyn, N.Y.

That's where they met Hasina Islam, who Jean says fostered a love of reading and the library in his daughter.

"You see what you started? You see that spark that you put in this child?" Jean told Islam at StoryCorps in 2016. At the time, Abigail was 7 and Islam was 27. Their friendship had begun four years prior, when Abigail was 3 and Islam was an intern at the library.

Islam remembers that back then, Abigail was shy and also not yet reading. Through the years, Islam has offered book suggestions that Abigail has devoured.

"What's cool is Hasina has recommended a lot of books that I, at the time, thought may be a little too advanced for you," Jean, then 42, told Abigail.

Like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Abigail said. She was 6 years old when Islam suggested it. "You thought [it] was too much for me — and I read three chapters of it," Abigail said.

Islam's own love of the library was sparked when she was in the third grade. She lived near the main branch of the Queens Public Library in New York City, and she went there to research Henry Hudson, the English explorer whom New York's Hudson River is named after, for a school project.

"The librarian made me feel so special. She remembered my name, and my favorite thing was she gave me book recommendations," she said. "When I was graduating college, I thought about how I was going to make a difference in the world. And I remembered my librarian, and I remembered that feeling that she gave me every single time I went to the library."

"But that's what I mean," Jean said. "You made my child feel like you were there specifically for her."

Five years after their first StoryCorps conversation, Abigail and Islam recorded a new one, remotely, this April during the coronavirus pandemic. Brooklyn Public Library branches have generally been closed since March 2020; there are plans to reopen starting next month.

Abigail, 12, is excited about once again seeing Islam, 32, who still works at the Brooklyn Public Library, when the libraries reopen.

"I haven't seen you in so long," Abigail said. "And I really, really miss you."

"I miss you too. And I often think about you," Islam said. "I just really, really hope that you continue to come back to the library, because when the library opens up, the library can be a sanctuary for you, a place that has millions of books waiting for you to go on a new adventure."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jey Born. NPR's Heidi Glenn adapted it for the web.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.