And Jesus said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his [accomplishments]." And he told them a parable, saying, "The [mind] of a rich [wo]man produced plentifully, and [s]he thought to [her]self, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my [thoughts]?' And [s]he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my [blog] and build [a more accomplished one], and there I will store all my [thoughts] and my [writings]. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample [publications and a great reputation]; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to [her], 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Library happenin's

A woman calls and says, "My daughter needs two DVDs for a school project. Can you look and see if you have them?" Her voice is a little frantic -- this must be an assignment tackled at the very last minute. I imagine a bored, emotionless teen sitting on the couch in the other room, eyes glazed over, watching MTV. A cell phone rests (for now) on her thigh. When it does buzz, she picks it up and moves her thumbs quickly, punching buttons.

I want to ask, "Can't your daughter do this herself?"

Instead I say, "What are the titles?"

I vow right then to not hold the hands of my own someday-children.


Later today, after a woman came to the desk demanding a computer, I realize that I facilitate a bunch of adult temper tantrums day after day, and I wonder if that is what working at a school truly is, except for kids. Students or adults feeling that they are entitled to something, unable to see outside the bounds of themselves.

I guess, for one, I feel ashamed at myself for complaining about someone else's narcissism. Is that not, in itself, narcissistic?


A patron approached my desk, looking for a book by Panos Karnezis that wasn't The Convent. She waited in silence as I scoured the database, so I tried my usual conversation starter: "What do you like about this author?" Most patrons start talking a mile a minute. Engaging style, twist in plot, identifying with a certain character. This woman is no exception -- but quickly, I find, she is educated. That is to say, truly, she understands literature. We continue talking, even after I've placed the hold. She recommends me Mark Vonnegut. "He's fantastic."

"Son of Kurt?" I ask.

She smiles. "Yes. I love Kurt too. I've read everything he's written -- except Slaughterhouse 5."

Having read (and been roughed up by) the novel, I nodded. "I get that."

She said, "To read an account that honest and that brutal -- because, you know, he lived through the Dresden bombings -- it's too painful. I can't bear to read any of that stuff anymore -- poverty, the Holocaust, wars."

I told her that, had I not read Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I wouldn't know anything about the bombing of Dresden. His descriptions were vivid, but abstract. There were colors. Animals put out of their misery. And Night helped me understand just how psychologically taxing concentration camps were, when I was studying to play Mutti in And Then They Came For Me.

I said, "I understand why you feel that way. Still, I think it's important to read these accounts -- it helps us remember who we can become, if we're not careful." (I recalled a recent letter I'd written where I'd said, "Sometimes, I think the only subject I will ever become an expert on is my own fallen nature." That is to say: I know I am capable of atrocities.)

Also, now that I think of it, "painful" accounts of human experience are valuable because they are great teachers. (Much more effective than textbook reading or lecture.) We are, after all, emotional as well as rational. We identify with narrative.

After all this, she wrapped up our dialogue saying, "Thank you so much for your help and conversation. I've never seen you here before."

"I'm a new hire," I said. "Just hit three weeks."

"Welcome to the team," she said, and it was the first time I felt that I actually was.

I placed a hold on The Convent for myself.


Later, I realize that the patron who I connected so well with has a note in her record. I click View, only to find that she had spoken with rude condescension to Dee (our circulation manager) one time last month. I am crushed.

(Not only am I a quick study in my own disgusting attitudes and behaviors -- I am a student of the effects of The Fall on others too.)


A new book recommendation came from an English teacher desperate to get a hold of a copy on audio book. For once, I can sympathize. The title? Farewell to Manzanar: A true story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II . Hoorah for increasing empathy for dissimilar people groups among apathetic American teens!


Another (s)low morning. There is a sick woman at Pub 1, Cathy. She is struggling, to no avail, to breathe through her nose. She clears her throat with big, wet "Eh-hem!"s. I want to put yellow plastic gloves over her hands, and block her mouth with a surgeon's mask -- and I'm not even a germ-o-phobe.

The old, deaf man with the sound-magnifier-headphones and a faux-fur-hunting-hat combo is at his favorite computer, Pub 3, on the far end. One day, when I wrote him a note to tell him the computers were down for the morning, he looked and me and grinned and said in an all-caps voice, "WHEN YOU MOVE, YOUR SHIRT SPARKLES! IT'S NICE!" If nothing else, I can count on his 9 A.M. presence on Pub 3.

A few other people trickle in. Joe, a regular, on Pub 9 -- the desktop closest to me. Another older woman with a scrunchy in her hair and a face scrunched with stress to match sits immediately in front of him. A black woman whose tall, white hat stands straight up on top of her head, its pom pom straining toward the ceiling, stares wide-eyed at the screen.

I imagine their on-line lives: e-mails with photos attached -- old friends updating with new life developments -- bank statements, FAFSAs, job applications, Googling necessary information (recipes, house upkeep tips), news briefs from Libya and Japan. Librarian Amy comes over to my desk from behind, wanting to know if I've seen a book she's tracking down. No doubt she's seen me composing these paragraphs, and has automatically thought "waste-of-library-funding." I feel minute shame.


On break, when the staff room is empty, I post a note on the professional development board. It reads:


Is it our job to educate and empower, or merely to entertain?

I turn this question back on myself, and find that I have no idea.

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