My Heroine

Librarian Costume
Librarian Costume (Photo credit: Librarian Avenger)

I made a librarian happy.

This morning I drove to Taylor to meet writing buddies at Java Junction on Main Street. I arrived in Taylor in timely fashion but, upon reaching Main Street, I realized I didn’t know whether to turn right or left.

I was not concerned. I’m an expert at driving around blocks.

First I turned left and drove a while, then turned around and drove back a while, then called friend #1 and spoke to her husband (she’d forgotten to take her cell phone), then called friend #2 and got no one, then turned around and inched along the other way again, then reversed and inched that way for a while, then called and reached friend #2, listened to directions, and inched back the other way…

I had visions of two women sitting beside the coffee shop window, watching me drive back and forth, back and forth. And pointing. And laughing.

Finally I came to my senses and turned at the little green and white sign with the graphic of the man reading a book.

If you want to make a librarian happy, someone told me, ask her a question.

I stopped at the reference desk and asked. The young lady’s face lit up.

After eliciting the information that I knew nothing about the town’s commercial district except where the Shell station was because I’d passed it several times–this is called a reference interview–she said Java Junction was right next door. Then she gave me a card with the library’s phone number, just in case I needed extra help.

I was sitting at the red light beside the Shell station when my phone rang. It was friend #2. “Do you know where the Shell station is?” she said.

I replied, “As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Java Junction is just on the other side, the building with the little blue sign.”

I turned left. It was as she had said. The sign was very little and not very blue and the lettering was not very bright. I almost drove past it.

I was thirty minutes late, and if it hadn’t been for that reference librarian, I would still be cruising Main Street.

Once again, a librarian saved the day.

But all was well. The coffee was good. The company was good. The mammoth cinnamon rolls my friends had consoled themselves with while waiting looked good. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, so I didn’t check for myself.

Anyway, that’s the story of my Wednesday adventure: narrative only. Just this happened and then this happened and then this happened. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t squeeze out a moral.

Except that librarians rule.


ROW80 has been going on for weeks. This is my first report. There was no point–there it is again!–in reporting that I was ignoring my goals and staying up till all hours of the a.m. Last night, however, I got to bed shortly after 10:00 p.m. I’m shooting for a pre-11:00 p.m. turn-in tonight. So I have to get a move on. Please forgive egregious errors. I’ll proof tomorrow.


Image belongs to Library Avenger’s photostream on flickr, CC BY 2.0.

The Tale of Kerwin, Part I

Last week I shared the story of Cuthbert, my second best teaching story. Today I share the story of Kerwin, my first best teaching story.

I offer it against my better judgment. But it’s been years since judgment factored into any of my decisions. So we begin.


Once upon a time, there was a librarian–for this story, Gentle Reader, is not my own; I heard it from someone who heard it from someone who heard it from a reliable source.

As I said, there was a librarian.

This librarian was a lovely person. She was kind and patient. She was soft-spoken. She was in no way profane. She was not in the habit of using what were once called unprintable words.

She did admit to employing two words that were once frowned upon, but that are now, in our advanced culture, hardly noticeable: damn and hell.

Those were her father’s words. And, because they were the only not-nice words she heard until she was nearly into her teens, she thought they were the worst words in existence.

And, although she understood they were not-nice words, and that she was not supposed to say them on pain of bad things happening, her father used them in such a way that made them sound perfectly acceptable.

In fact,  her Baptist Southern Belle hat-and-glove-wearing maternal grandmother (who had once told the future librarian, when said future librarian at the age of seven had impulsively demonstrated her erudition in spelling, that privy wasn’t the nicest word for a little girl to know how to spell),–as I say, her grandmother was so taken with the future librarian’s father’s by-words that she sometimes uttered them herself, mimicking his singular pronunciation: Well, day-um. (Hell was pronounced hail.)

(The grandmother never got in trouble for saying those words either.)

But, after the librarian’s father died, the librarian missed hearing those words, and she had attained her majority and then some, so she adopted the words as her own.

She sometimes worried that her usage didn’t always sound as innocent as her father’s. She sometimes said those words as if she really meant them. She wasn’t proud of that, but she managed to live with it.

She did not, however, venture further down the list of not-nice words without serious provocation. And such instances were practically unheard of. With her even temper and unfailing sense of propriety, she did not require that safety valve.

There were days, of course, when she came close. But when students were present, she never let an improper word pass her lips.

For years, she maintained this high linguistic standard.

So time passed. Enrollment in her school district increased rapidly. The Powers That Were decreed that the primary/elementary library should be moved to temporary lodgings in a house.

A small house. A small, old house.

The arrangement of the is germane to our story. The front room was divided by a partition about four feet high; to the right and down a couple of steps was a “sunken” computer lab supervised by a teaching assistant; to the left was a larger room where library reference books were shelved. Behind the reference room was a 12 x 30-foot room that ran the width of the building.

The rest of the library collection was shelved in that back room; the circulation desk was there; the card catalog was there; tables and chairs were there; the librarian taught her classes there.

Did I mention it measured 12 x 30?

The day after the roof leaked, a large puddle of water appeared there as well, but the card catalog was so expertly built that the liquid pooling atop it did not seep inside.

I will not mention the mold.

Now, a digression: Lest it be thought the librarian complained, I’ll add that the library’s sojourn in the old house lasted only three years, and that its next home, across the street, was new and roomy and bright and cheerful. And that pending relocation to the new building, the librarian polished her martyr complex and pretended she was having fun.

But pressure was building.

Sometimes she discussed her feelings with friends in similar boats.

One of those friends, Janie, a librarian who doubled as a preacher’s wife, confided to our librarian that she and certain individuals were embroiled in an ongoing disagreement over policy. Janie said she had been trying to rid herself of negative feelings about her opponents. She said that on frequent visits she made to a nursing home, she often saw an elderly lady sitting in the hallway in her wheelchair, cursing like a sailor. Janie was afraid that if she continued to harbor ill feeling in her bosom, she would end up the same way.

“I can’t think of anything worse,” she said, “than a preacher’s elderly widow sitting all day in a public hallway, cursing.”

Our librarian countered that if her own situation didn’t improve, she would disgrace herself by spouting out a word in the presence of her students.

And she knew exactly which students and what word:

The word would be smarta**.

And the students would be the Class from–Hail.

To Be Continued

Day 22: Sneaky booksellers

A couple of years ago, while Christmas shopping in a chain bookstore I won’t identify, I flagged down a salesperson and told her I’d like a closer look at a set of Twilight Zone DVDs. She spun on her heel and strode across the store toward the locked media cabinet.

Following, I heard her mutter, “There are only about two dozen of them.”

I knew the set I wanted to look at–I’d scouted it out before seeking help–but I hadn’t realized I needed to be specific before we reached our destination.

Hearing the snide comment, I was tempted to switch into schoolteacher mode: “I beg your pardon? I didn’t hear what you said. Would you repeat it?”

But I didn’t. She was young and it was December. Her feet probably hurt.

(As I re-read that sentence it occurred to me that her youth might have been a good reason to speak up and let her know she wasn’t winning friends and influencing people.)

Anyway, I pointed to the box I wanted and she took it to the counter for me. The whole transaction took less than a minute. I escaped to the fiction section, where merchandise isn’t kept behind lock and key.

Later, at the sales counter, I listened to another salesperson tell her co-worker about the stupid man who called asking for a book whose title and author he couldn’t remember. He said he knew what it was about, though.

This woman–also quite young–told the caller if he didn’t know what he wanted, how did he expect her to know, there were only a few thousand titles in the store.

She didn’t look as if her feet hurt at all. She had a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, as if she had enjoyed hanging up on a potential sale.

I was tempted to slide into librarian mode and tell her what I thought of her take on customer service. But I didn’t.

Instead, I thought about what would have happened if the gentleman had called the library where I used to work. We’d have run circles around each other trying to figure out what book he wanted and how to get it.

As a friend once observed, “All you have to do to make a librarian happy is ask a question. They just brighten right up.”

There’s an independent bookstore in Austin where the salespeople remind me of librarians.

BookPeople staff don’t wait for customers to approach them. They sneak up behind you and ask how you’re doing.

When they find you lurking in the mystery section, unable to make up your mind, they ask who your favorite authors are. Then they suggest something else you might like and take off to find a copy.

The day I told the clerk at the upstairs information desk that I was looking for the YA novel about teen-aged girls hunting flesh-eating unicorns, he barked, “Rampant,” and led me right to the shelf.

That’s the reason–one of them anyway–I like BookPeople.

The folks there act as if they enjoy working with books.

In fact, they act as if they’ve even read them.


Day 16: What I miss

What do I miss about working in a library?

The book budget. I loved buying books with other people’s money.

Books. I loved opening boxes, lifting out new volumes, turning pages, taking them home to preview (if I could grab them before my colleagues did).

Book people. I loved doing booktalks for both students and adults. I loved recommending books to patrons and colleagues. I loved saying, “You’ve got to read this. It’s wonderful.” I loved being around people who loved books.

We spent this evening with friends who worked with me at the library. At the last minute before embarking on our seventy-mile drive, I gathered books from shelves, from chairs, from the cedar chest, from the floor, and put them into a bookbag–mysteries for Sally, a hodgepodge for Maryellen.

They seemed pleased to get them.

It was almost as good as being back at work.