Don’t Put that Book Back, and other Library Tales

You don’t know what chaos is until you work as an assistant librarian  library aide well, until you work at a library during the summer program. This summer I spent June through August at my tiny hometown library, and it was all sorts of interesting (and by interesting, I mean as in I tripped on the stairs once and almost gave an elderly woman a heart attack, and I never figured out how to work the fax machine).

For the first part of June – before The Chaos began – I spent most of my time shelving books and straightening books, just the way my Grandma taught me. I learned pretty quickly that one can spend a lifetime straightening books, and somehow they’ll be unstraightened again the very next day. I had the children’s room all to myself because a librarian retired suddenly a few days after I started work. (I’m guessing that having to see my face every day pushed her over the edge.)

I’m writing a new version of The Hunger Games, except I’m calling it The Chaos Program and it’s actually a children’s summer reading program at a small-town library. (I’m calling dibs on being President Snow, because he actually survived almost all three books. Plus then my fictional counterpart could afford roses.) Instead of fighting to survive, these kids are fighting for the best prizes. Cheesy? Not at all. Our library gives Kindles to the top child readers, and a four year old got a Kindle this year. I’d fight for that too! I was never big on the whole democracy thing either, so the kids will have to deal with MY rules. So far, the book is sounding pretty good to me.

Whenever children were being rowdy, I went and sat behind the desk. It’s amazing the silencing effect a frowning person behind a desk can have on loud, naughty children. (On some of them, it has no effect whatsoever. Ugh. Those children are the ones to watch out for, mark my words.) Usually I didn’t have to speak a word, I just used the Mom Look on them. My mother has taught me well.

I learned that when you want to make connections or learn a little too much about people in a small town, go to the library. It feels like half the people in town went in and out of the computer lab each day. When you’re checking books out for someone, there’s always an awkward little pause while you’re scanning and stamping and they’re waiting that should be filled with small talk. I asked one elderly woman about her summer and she said that it had been great up until her husband died a month ago. That was really sad, but then we had a great discussion on plots. I helped an elderly man pick out a sweet romance novel for his wife, who is very picky. I sorted through boxes of books donated to the library (to steal the ones I wanted before they were processed). Who knew there was such a thing as molecular origami???

For the most part, I carried tables, arranged chairs, gave children Looks, and tripped down the stairs. Our prize room is upstairs in the library, and one day I went up and down fourteen seperate times. Every few hours while shelving books I would think to myself: goodness gracious, child, why did you leave McLachlan books in the Pierce section?? I fantasized every single day about hanging signs everywhere in the children’s room that say – in big block letters, of course – DON’T PUT THAT BOOK THERE. PUT IT ON MY CART. There were a few others like, STOP SCREAMING and DON’T YOU DARE JUMP ON THE CHAIRS AGAIN. I also wanted to literally beg parents to take their screaming babies away from my poor ears.

There are several children that I saw again, and I loved it. Kids grow up so quickly. I try to develop friendships with the children who come to the summer program, because my siblings and I have never forgotten the children’s librarian from when we were younger. She was named Linda, she smiled a lot, and she talked and laughed all deep and throaty and I thought she was fascinating and amazing. That’s why I don’t put the signs up… kids will be kids, and someday they’ll all be glued  to their smartphones too. I really should’ve been hanging up signs that said, PUT YOUR DARN PHONE AWAY. (Or just give it to me and Sue, and we’ll flush your phone down the toilet for you.)

It made me sad, seeing all the parents who just got on the computer or their phones and didn’t even bother to read their kids a book. Please, if you take your children to the library, at least read them one book. Books are an escape from the world that aren’t permanently damaging like alcohol, drugs, and video games. Books are intellectually stimulating and they make your child smarter. (I grew up reading books every single day and I am intelligent. I hope. I am awkward and clumsy, but hopefully I have common sense. Sue, one of the librarians, would disagree with this statement.)

Speaking of the other librarians – oh, where do I start?! Here begins a tell-all expose on the librarians:

Just kidding. (I wouldn’t do that to you, Sue. Unless you cross me.) In all honesty, Sue and Patty and Sarah and Stephanie are the most fun to work with. Sure, they all have their quirks. (Some of them maybe have a a few more quirks than the others.) Sue loves to tease me, but she patiently – occasionally, not so patiently – put up with me giving her extra work every single day up until I left. She left the books for me to shelve every day, which I appreciated because I got very good at my ABC’s. I can’t tell you how many times I sang the ABC song in my head. Patty was always calling me over to show me cool ideas she’d found on Pinterest for the children’s program. Sarah provided a calm outlook on the world when the library exploded with noisy children everywhere.

It was Sue and Patty who listened to me giving myself countless pep talks and even spouting complaints before diving back into the fray. They were my comrades, and we carried out mission after dangerous mission on the front lines of the children’s program. We didn’t scream when the animal man brought out his snakes and spiders with a flourish (well, I don’t know about Sue, but I didn’t scream). Sue and I celebrated quietly together when every exhausting program was over for the day, and Patty and I pooled our creative juices for the new library website. (Okay, so it was mostly Patty’s creative juices, but still.) I spent the majority of my time bantering with Sue and waxing philosophical about Legos with Patty, all while putting books away (does the Darth Vader lego man have a helmet, or is his head actually his helmet??! Does his cape represent darkness? I couldn’t find him amongst the multiple boxes of Legos, so I might never know).

I helped kids pick out prizes, and that took a while each time. If they had gone over twenty minutes, I set my timer. It’s funny how fast children will make a decision when they know they have a deadline thirty seconds away.

Lunchtime at the library is my favorite time. You get to know someone so much over a dinner table (in this case a lunch table). Sue and Patty and Sarah and Stephanie all got to know me better – how fast I eat, how loud I chew my chips, how many crumbs I spill…etc. Sue is the neat freak and I think she may have actually winced once when I almost spilled my cup. During lunch we discussed the day, our lives, our food, the library patrons, the towns, problems, loves, and silly stories. I think lunch at the library is a sort of mix between corporate employee meeting, educational experience, and wild party. Mix some food into that and it becomes something very strange but amazing.

I will miss every aspect of the library – the kids (yes, even though they are CRAZY. One little girl noticed the Lego earrings Sue made me and spent the next twenty minutes building Legos onto my ears), being among the books, singing my ABCs mentally, and most of all, the librarians at lunchtime. We laughed together a lot, but a lot of that laughter happened at lunchtime.

I can honestly say that working at my small-town library has changed my perspective on a lot of things. Small towns aren’t always the sweet places they are in books, and people aren’t always as easy to understand as the characters on a page. The real characters in life can’t ever really be written down properly, and they are infinitely complex and never what you expect. Confession time: when I was younger, I was terrified of Patty. Yup.

Now Patty and Sue are two of my favorite people to spend time with, even when they are both laughing at my clumsiness.

May your journey be ever onward and into a library – but DON’T put that book back on the shelf!


P.S. Sue, I asked Grandpa about the Beaver Island baseball team. He said they might still play a few games, but he doesn’t know if they’re called the Beaver Island Ball-Bangers anymore. Sorry to disappoint you.IMG_6123


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