SHHHHHH! Confessions of The Loudest Librarian in the World

There’s a scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Jimmy Stewart demands to know what has happened to his wife Mary, in the version of events where he never existed. The angel, Clarence, refuses at first to tell him. “I’m not supposed to…” he says. “You won’t like it.” But Jimmy turns violent and sweaty, so Clarence reluctantly reveals the horrible truth: She’s a librarian…

It is this revelation that finally convinces poor Jimmy that his life is important, if only to save his wife from that dreadful fate.

A friend of my parents had a similar reaction when he first learned that I was planning to be a librarian. “Not Ashley!” And several of my college classmates, when I told them I was going to grad school to become a librarian said simply, “Oh…” in a surprised but carefully neutral way, as if I had just announced that I was planning to open an upscale brothel in New Jersey, and they didn’t want to appear judgmental.

But the real shocking truth is that I LOVE being a librarian.

I love answering questions, the more bizarre the better. I’ve also gotten to help people find family histories, apply for jobs, plan birthday parties, choose a college, plant a garden, write a eulogy, plan a trip, fix a car. I never know what the next question is going to be.

Plus I get the fun but delicate job of pairing people with books. It’s a little like being a matchmaker: What are you looking for in a book? Would you like a serious book, or one with a good sense of humor? Are you looking for a hot new bestseller, or a book that’s been around the block a few times and knows things? People are much more promiscuous with DVDs, which they check out by the dozen, without ever asking for recommendations. But books are such an intimate thing. They get inside you. So you want to be careful which ones you bring home.

Aside from reference and reader’s advisory, I also do storytimes, which means I get to stand up in front of a crowd of grown-ups and their children each week and be absolutely ridiculous. I jump up and down, and sing silly songs, and pretend to fall asleep so they can scream, “Wake up!”

I am not a quiet librarian. A patron once complained that my storytimes could be heard in San Francisco (which isn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds since the library is only about eight miles from the city.) But I love storytime. For that half-hour, I get to be a magician, watching the kids fall under the spell of each new book. It’s addictive.

Oh, there are parts of the job I don’t like, especially collecting overdue fines. It always feels so punitive. In those moments I do feel like I should have my hair in a tight little bun, and be peering at the offending library patron through thick-lensed angular glasses, possibly while holding a riding crop.

There are your nice patrons, who say, “I’m always happy to support the library,” as if they had deliberately kept their DVDs an extra day just so they could give us a quarter. And then there are your not-so-nice patrons, who will argue six-ways-to-Tuesday that they never checked out Tori Spellings’ memoir, much less kept it for two years under their pillow, even though there’s a note on their library record saying that they kept poor Tori out too late once before in 2008, and denied knowing her then too.

Then there are my professional pet peeves, the biggest of which are parents who try to legislate their kids’ reading choices: “That book looks too easy for you.” Or “You’ve read enough Garfield. Find something else.” I’m always sorely tempted to counter with, “Oh dear, I’m afraid that new Janet Evanovich novel is well below your reading level. How about this nice new Stephen Hawking? MUCH more appropriate.” A big portion of my job involves helping parents find something, ANYTHING, to appeal to their reluctant young reader, so if your kid is excited about a book, even if it’s Attack of the Booger-Coated Angry Birds, consider yourself lucky.

But these are minor complaints in a job whose biggest perk is that it never gets boring. This is mostly because I’m working with the general public, and never know who’s going to walk through the door, but also just because of the job itself. Some of my more unusual duties (none of which were mentioned in my job description) include: kissing a pot-bellied pig in front of a large audience; rescuing a lost parakeet that appeared in the parking lot; checking out a library book to a robot made from an unnatural alliance between a laptop computer and a Roomba vacuum cleaner; and spending an afternoon leading a Potions class while dressed as Severus Snape from Harry Potter.

So every Christmas when I see “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and watch poor Mary coming through that library door with her big glasses and her sensible shoes, I think, “Leave her alone, George. She’s a librarian now. And I bet she’s having the time of her life.”


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ash
    Jan 20, 2013 @ 05:08:42

    Reblogged this on loudestlibrarian.


  2. izatrapani1
    Feb 28, 2014 @ 00:39:09

    Haha! Oh how I love this!


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