It’s been my contention that grad school prepares you for NOTHING you encounter as a public librarian. Academic librarian, sure. Archivist, without a doubt. But none of the “working in a public library” classes which I took could have steeled me for what I’ve experienced. (And, I wasn’t even planning to work in a public library. I had every intention of selling out and working in private industry. Sadly, Lehman Bros. decided to blow up the economy right as I graduated, so the kibosh was put on that grand plan.)
Most of my patrons are lovely, well-balanced people. Some are raving fruitcakes. And then some seem well-balanced and lovely, and then they do something which leaves you in slack-jawed stupefaction. In the first of a series I’ve helpfully entitled Annals in “WTH Were You Thinking??”, I present “Potty training.”
As a librarian, I encounter all sorts of people, from the smugly self-satisfied to those barely clinging on. This is a story of the latter.
R. led a wonderful life. He was involved in baseball. He’s met presidents and celebrities. He flew around the world.
And now he’s losing his mind.
He doesn’t remember how to do the simplest things, things which he used to do with no help. For example, he will type a letter at home on his laptop, put it on his thumb drive, bring it to the library, and print it out.
However, for the past 2 weeks he’s been bringing in his laptop. Why? Because he no longer remembers how to transfer a file from the laptop to the memory stick. He needs help doing that every time. And then, once he’s on one of our computers so that he can print it out, he needs help on how to bring up the document. He used to do all these things without our assistance.
I’ve seen photos of him with Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope, the Three Stooges. He milled around with the great and good. And now he scrapes by with enough money to pay his rent and buy bologna. I’ve had to loan him a few bucks on a couple of occasions because he didn’t have enough gas in the tank to get him home. And now, senescence is creeping in. His memory is shot.
Before I became a librarian, I just assumed that people came into the library, got their materials, and went home. It wasn’t until I was on the job that I learned that for many people the library is where they hang out each and every day. They bring their laptops to take advantage of our wi-fi. They have their favorite chairs where they while away the day reading. They would be lost on the streets if the library weren’t here.
I’ve gotten to know most of my regulars. Some of them I know just by sight, and I wave when they come in. Some come seek me out when I’m on the reference desk for long conversations. As a librarian, I’m part counselor, part priest, part bartender. (I like the bartender part. I just wish we were allowed a wet bar.)
Yesterday I found out that one of my regulars passed away.
I began my library career as a government documents librarian. What is that, you ask? Well, our tax dollars are spent—very well, from what I could tell—publishing various government documents. It can be as mundane as the yearly budget. And it can be as awesome as a pictorial history of our national parks. Really, there were some very high quality books in my collection, all available to the library for free. That’s right; we didn’t have to pay for them as we do for all our other materials. Socialism!
But, all things change. My system decided to condense its repositories, and mine was on the chopping block. Don’t worry, LL, they said, we’ll find you another position.
When I first interviewed, I was told that I wouldn’t have to be a children’s librarian if I didn’t want to. “You won’t be any good at it if you don’t have a passion for it, and the kids and parents will be able to tell.” So, what was this great new position they had for me? Yes! Children’s librarian!
I have what some would call a “booming voice”. There are many reasons for this—one of which I will propound on at length in a future essay. But suffice it to say that my voice carries.
Now, as a children’s librarian, this is an absolute boon. Having a loud, controlled voice as I read “Pete the Cat” to the little darlings is a major asset. And especially when I get to the part in “Wheels on the Bus” where the driver says ‘GET ON BACK, GET ON BACK”. (Yes, I do all this with a straight face. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m laughing the entire time.)
However, it seems that when I’m on the reference desk, and getting animated while I research something interesting for a patron, my voice can get a bit loud. Cavernous, even. Stentorian. And, sometimes, a patron is less than pleased with my rich, strong tones.