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There’s a scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Jimmy Stewart demands to know what has happened to his wife Mary, in the version of events where he never existed. The angel, Clarence, refuses at first to tell him. “I’m not supposed to…” he says. “You won’t like it.” But Jimmy turns violent and sweaty, so Clarence reluctantly reveals the horrible truth: She’s a librarian…

It is this revelation that finally convinces poor Jimmy that his life is important, if only to save his wife from that dreadful fate.

A friend of my parents had a similar reaction when he first learned that I was planning to be a librarian. “Not Ashley!” And several of my college classmates, when I told them I was going to grad school to become a librarian said simply, “Oh…” in a surprised but carefully neutral way, as if I had just announced that I…

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