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Aaron Yang: Voracious Reader Or Giant Pain To Librarians?


Librarians will tell you, if you don't know the answer, look it up. They'll even help. But right now, lots of librarians have this question - just who is Aaron Yang? From Chicago, Anne Ford reports on the mystery.

ANNE FORD, BYLINE: There are about 9,000 public libraries across the country, and nearly every one has a summer reading program. They're designed to keep kids and adults opening books during the summer. Participants are on the honor system and use a website to track their reading. In return, they can get some library swag - things like keychains or notepads. For years, Pennsylvania librarian Rebekah Garrety has heard from dozens of colleagues who have received the same email.

REBEKAH GARRETY: I signed up for the teen summer reading, but I live in California. Is it possible to mail my prizes to me? I really appreciate it.

FORD: These emails are signed Aaron Yang. If he gets a yes, Yang thanks them. If he gets a no, Aaron Yang asks again and, yes, again.

AARON YANG: They think I'm a scam - a scam or a spambot, not even human.

FORD: Aaron Yang is definitely a human. He's a 20-year-old in Southern California. He says his passion for summer reading programs started when he was 14 and clicked on the wrong one online.

YANG: And only when I'd finished participating in it, I realized, oh, no, they're in Texas.

FORD: After he explained, the library mailed him his prizes anyway. Then he was off and running. By his count, he's now contacted around a thousand libraries and acquired untold numbers of pencils, stickers and awards.

Wina Mortenson is a librarian in Galesburg, Wis. When Aaron Yang signed up for her library's reading program, she thought...

WINA MORTENSON: Maybe this is someone I've never met before, or maybe they live a little farther away like La Crosse.

FORD: When she learned he lived in California, she cheerfully mailed Aaron his prizes.

MORTENSON: It's just what makes him happy. When he first said, oh, some librarians hate me, I said, librarians?

GENNA MICKEY: When people get an email from Aaron, they say they've gotten Yanged (ph).

FORD: That's Genna Mickey, a librarian in Sugar Grove, Ill. Her library got Yanged a few years ago.

MICKEY: At the time when I found out, I was amused.

FORD: But Mickey says she's not amused anymore. And she isn't the only librarian who bristles at emails from Yang.

MICKEY: Libraries are underfunded as it is. So I think he's taking advantage of the good-heartedness of some librarians. And by doing that, he's taking resources from their community.

FORD: But Aaron Yang insists he's in it for the programs themselves, not the prizes. In Wisconsin, librarian Wina Mortenson says she doesn't understand why anyone would object.

MORTENSON: If we can do a service to somebody who is halfway across the country from us, I say, hooray. I mean, you just have to have fun with him.

FORD: Rebekah Garrety in Felton, Pa., understands why underfunded libraries might get territorial about the communities they serve. Even so, she says she's on Yang's side.

GARRETY: I think he has a genuine love for libraries and a genuine love for learning and kind of expanding his own horizons. And I think he just likes things.

FORD: And yes, those things cost money, but a library's mission is to keep people reading. Meanwhile, Yang's activities have inspired some new swag. Thanks to one of his librarian fans, you can now buy a T-shirt online that reads, We Are All Aaron Yang. For NPR News, I'm Anne Ford in Chicago.

[POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly state that Wina Mortenson is a librarian in Galesburg, Wisconsin. In fact, she is a librarian in Galesville, Wisconsin.]

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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