The Original Monster Librarian
In Memoriam: Dylan Kowalewski, The Original Monster Librarian
September 5, 1973-April 17, 2014
Monster Librarian was the idea and passion of Dylan Kowalewski. Dylan, in a typical burst of optimism and energy, with an intense love of horror fiction, started the site at the end of 2005. Where he got the energy and conviction to start it off less than three months after our first child was born, while working full time and attending library school, I do not have the slightest idea. Library school was an eye-opening experience for him, as over and over again he ran into librarians or soon-to-be-librarians who told him they didn’t like horror fiction, didn’t want to read it, and didn’t know what to hand readers who asked for “something like Stephen King.” He was tired of going to bookstores and finding only the same three or four authors in the “horror” section. Anne Rice and Stephen King were just the tip of the iceberg, but you would never know that from looking there.
Dylan himself grew up down the street from a used bookstore called “Granny’s Attic”. Remember used bookstores? I do. The one I frequented at that age was run by a guy with a beard and a very sneaky cat, with shelves of yellow-spined DAW paperbacks. Dylan’s, apparently, was stocked with killer animal (and killer plant) books from the 1970s and 1980s. As we cleared out the bookshelves in his basement study so new carpet could be installed, he let go of a lot of books, but Guy N. Smith’s Crabs books, James Herbert’s The Rats, and many other well-worn paperbacks stayed.
While I’m not actually working in a library anymore, I do have the degree, and I’ve been a children’s librarian in a public library, a school librarian in an elementary school. I’ve also had plenty of anecdotal experiences in which I’ve run into people who were non-readers who became readers when they discovered Stephen King, or Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, or R.L. Stine. I’ve seen all of these attacked by censors and belittled as trash reading or merely a stop on the way to “real” literature. And I firmly believe that the world becomes a better place when people learn to read and to love reading. Dylan believed that too, and felt that a lot of kids, teens, and adults, were turned off to reading because the people who have the most influence– parents, teachers, and librarians– didn’t see the value of reading horror for pleasure. He always maintained that reading for entertainment is enough reason to read– there doesn’t have to be deeper meaning, and sometimes a tree really is just a tree.
And so he started Monster Librarian, writing short, objective reviews of just a few sentences, almost completely by himself, and publishing them every week, to create a resource for all those people (especially librarians) who told him “I don’t like reading horror, but I need to know about it”. For a long time that’s the only name by which people knew him. At a conference he attended, someone finally took him around and introduced him– “This is Dylan, the Monster Librarian”. And he’s the only person who, I think, can ever own that title. At one point he worked full time, had a second job in a library, and put in probably the equivalent to a part-time job in time and effort for the site, as well as being a devoted and loving father and husband.
Most of the people who knew Dylan through Monster Librarian knew him mainly online, but both he and I have been lucky to have both authors and reviewers call us friends. This site became what it is because, in spite of his being an intensely private person, his personality and love of the genre and the horror community always shone through. Bret Jordan, Bob Freeman, David Agranoff, Rhonda Rettig (formerly Wilson), Erik Smith, Kelly Fann, Michele Lee, Colleen Wanglund, Darlene Wanglund, Dave Simms, Patricia O. Mathews, Diana Lord, Sheila Shedd, Hannah Kate, Aaron Fletcher, Julie Adams, and so many more contributed to making this site what it is– a place where parents write to thank us for finding the right book for their reluctant reader, authors contact us to tell us that finding their book reviewed here convinced them to keep writing, small presses and self-publishers get their names out into the mainstream, Midwestern moms confess their love for horror, and librarians discover the gems of the horror genre.
The work of all these people has made the site a success.
But Dylan is the one who made it happen.
And to quote Amy Dalton, his former manager at the Southport Library, “the only thing monstrous about the Monster Librarian was the size of his heart.”
If you have any memories or stories about your friendship or interactions with Dylan that you would like to share, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.