When I was a college student, I worked as a library page at a public library. I loaded and shelved books for the Book Mobile Department, supervised by four ladies in their sixties. These ladies could have been characters in a southern gothic novel. One was grandmotherly and chipper, one was sarcastically witty, one was grumpy, and one was bashfully shy. They were there for me when I struggled with classes, when I came in after sitting with dying relatives, when my mother died. That library became a quiet, calming place where I tried to keep my life in order as I slipped books into their homes in the Dewey Decimal system.
I love working in libraries. When I have work that needs to be typed, writing that needs to be done, or online materials that need to be graded, I love to do it in the library. Today I am in a public library near my house in Georgia. There is a young man in his late twenties/early thirties working on his laptop at a table near mine. The other two patrons who are here for a while are gentlemen who are definitely in the over fifty range who are reading newspapers, casually looking at books, or surfing the web on library computers. The main librarian, Myrna, is a young woman who probably just finished her master’s in library science (or whatever the modern alternative is). She treats each visitor with respect and kindness and promptly produces whatever book they ask for. During downtime, she catches up on local news with the older librarian and a senior citizen who shelves books.
An older patron enters and asks for her favorite library worker, Nancy, who is at the dentist today. She shares with the staff that Jimmy came up and mowed her grass today. It was growing well this year, but it was knee high because every time he started to mow it, it rained.
Why do I love this library? It’s not the quietest place to work. The elderly patrons let their cell phones ring. The gossip and patron visits are noisy. Its selection of books is abysmal.
It provides the things my anxiety-ridden mind need most. It is organized. It is cheerful. It is friendly. It is calm. It is familiar.
As I check out a novel, I make a mistake with the automated system. The older librarian assists me. “I used to work in a library when I was in college,” I say. “Back then, we had to take a picture of the book to check it out.”
“I remember those days,” she says.
“Times have changed,” I say.
“They certainly have.” She smiles.
Maybe they haven’t.