May 2013

Josh Hanagarne

A librarian who stands tall
Interview by
Share this Article:

With his powerful 6'7" frame and a severe case of Tourette’s syndrome, Hanagarne defies the stereotype of the timid librarian, turning his love of books into a rewarding career.

A librarian with Tourette’s sounds like an oxymoron. How did you choose your career?

Like a lot of librarians I know, I’m just not well-suited to do anything else. I chose this career because it combines all of the things I love about life into one vague job description. Also because I knew it would test me as far as the Tourette’s.

You are a hugely avid reader, thanks in large part to your mom. What did she do to turn you into such a bookworm?

She led by example. My mom loved books and reading, so her kids did as well. I never had a chance to be anything but a ­bookworm.

Can you briefly describe growing up with Tourette’s?

Twitching, tears, timidity and a few triumphs.

How did Tourette’s shape your 20s?

I let it steal most of my 20s. I let it take much of my self-worth, my ambition and my confidence from me. But there’s nothing that makes me sadder than the lost time. Which is one of the reasons why I’m pathologically productive at this point.

You write candidly about uncomfortable situations in the library. What is the public’s greatest misperception about libraries?

Probably that libraries are just buildings full of books.

Why are physical libraries so important to communities?

To answer that question, I’d ask you to go to your local library and watch everything that happens there for a couple of hours. Look at the schedule of activities. Watch children looking at picture books with their parents. Then picture everything that would be lost if the library were suddenly gone. That makes the case for me better than anything I could say.

You obviously love your job, even though it entails “attending community council meetings, monitoring the mentally ill, surrogate parenting, gang and drug activity tracking” and more. What makes working in a library so great?

There’s nothing I love as much as I love stories, and working in the library is one huge, unpredictable story. I’ve learned more about the highs and lows of humanity here than I have anywhere else, from both the books and the people. I think it would be a great location for an anthropology dissertation.

Strength training and breathing exercises enable you to anticipate and manage tics. What’s your coolest strength-training trick?

“Trick” would imply something anyone could do, if they just knew the secret. The “trick” is to get strong enough to do this stuff! I think that the coolest thing I can currently do is to pick up a 300-lb. stone and put it on my shoulder.

What message would you like to send to young people struggling with Tourette’s or other significant limitations?

Any time you spend thinking “I can’t believe this is happening” is ultimately wasted time. It’s easier said than done, but I believe real hope comes from moving from “I can’t believe this is happening” to “this is happening.” Because once you can accept that it’s happening, the logical next question is, “So what now?” If you can ask, you can improve your situation.

Read our review of The World's Strongest Librarian.

Get the Book

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.

Trending Interviews