“Mom! I found a good book!” I heard a happy little voice call from across the room. Of course interested in any declaration of a good book, I looked up from the cart of books I was shelving in the children’s section of our city library and spotted the blond little guy wearTraing a blue plaid shirt and Carhartt overalls, with snow boots on his feet and picture books in his hands. Disappointed that I couldn’t read his titles from where I stood, I watched as his mom walked toward him, a smile on her face and her own hands full of books. I’ve been working part time as a library shelver at the Loussac Library since July and have figured out – these two are Thursday morning storytime regulars.
When I started as a Shelver my duties included a rotating shift a couple times a day when I’d go out and empty the 4 outside book drops + collect the books from the indoor book drops. After discharging the items (checking them back into the system) I’d put them on sorting shelves according to genre, where shelver(s) assigned to these sections would then flip through the items to be sure they were in good condition and ready to return to the shelves, sort them to a cart and then wheel them out to the stacks and shelve them.
The library is at the tail end of an extensive renovation project and a few weeks ago the new automated materials handler went into action which means we no longer have to go out to the book drops (YAY – it’s been COLD and we had our first snow this weekend). Instead, now patrons put their items on a conveyor belt that winds its way into our sorting room where we shelvers take shifts managing the machine, flipping through the items, and sorting them to carts ready for shelving. There is much more to the process, of course – holds, branch libraries transfers, interlibrary loans, etc…..but this describes my basic trail each work day. For my first 2.5 months on the job – before “Sorty McSortface” came online we shelvers were assigned our sections, and so, being new and basically at the bottom of the seniority list, I’ve spent these past couple months shelving the picture books up on the second floor. Which, I like.
It’s surprisingly demanding physical work to wrestle picture books into their spots. Squat, shelve, edge, repeat. I particularly like edging part, which is pretty unfortunate because neat and tidy does not last long in this space. I like getting out on the floor to shelve as much as I can before the library opens. The early morning quiet is striking, particularly as it contrasts with the hours to come. It reminds me of my teaching days, and I suppose right there is the key to why I like shelving in this section so much. A big difference though is that now when the kids arrive in all their wild and wonderful ways, I simply fade into the stacks. There is a librarian available at the desk. Nobody needs me for anything. I don’t have to make decisions. No conversations to engage. (Though there was that one little kid who kept insisting I find him some Halloween books. In August.)
Mostly, I just shelve. And I listen. I hear the ABC song. A LOT. I hear snippets of books I know well enough to recite from memory and others I’ve never heard before. I hear dialogue from impromptu puppet shows. And I’ve noticed that little voices announcing “I have to go potty” get results like nothing else. I hear story-time songs and conversations from Mommy Meet ups. It’s been weird to experience myself nearly invisible as I walk back and forth from my cart to the shelves, carrying books, shelving books, straightening books, but it’s given me lots of time and plenty of triggers for reflection…..to follow the library thread back through the stories of my life.
My dad was an elementary school teacher and he worked as the school librarian and media coordinator in some of my earliest memories. That meant we got to take care of the library critters during school vacations, and though we didn’t have a TV through my childhood, he brought one home for us to watch the Olympics on. It also gave me access to autographs from Walt Morey and Byrd Baylor. And it meant that “library discard” was stamped in many of the first books I owned.
During my grade school summers, mom worked as a nurse while dad stayed home with the four kids. One of the highlights we still love to reminisce about was our weekly adventure to the Hillsboro Library during the summer reading program. The five of us (and sometimes Grandma too) packed a picnic lunch and walked a couple blocks to the Trimet bus stop where we caught the bus – if we were lucky it was one of those fancy new articulated models – and rode it to the Library at Shute Park. It’s been many years since I’ve been there, but my memory follows the highway from Aloha through busy intersections and strip mall scenery before turning off into a large, green, park under a high canopy of trees. There was a playground and indoor swimming pool. And the library. I was an early, avid reader. And competitive. The summer reading program was made for me. I remember studying the books displayed in the glass case in the children’s section. Each week I’d look at the titles there and carefully consider which one I’d choose for my very own when I met the reading goal. I’ve got lots of good memories from those days. And also still, one of those prize books, a copy of I, Juan de Pareja.
My freshman year in college I got assigned to the library for work study. It was a super fit for me, of course. Except for when they put me in charge of watering the plants on Thirsty Thursday. I didn’t keep that task long. After college I moved to central Kentucky and got a summer job at a university library, putting barcodes on books for their technology upgrade. I got to know a really nice guy during those hot, dusty hours in the stacks, and 10 years later I was a mom at story time.
And now, after more years still and so many miles from where I started, I find myself hanging out with the books in the stacks once again. That little towhead and his mom……I am both characters in that story. They are not me. But I am them – the child, the parent, the library lover (see what I did there?!?). And always…. alert to find a good book.
Stay tuned. I’ve got some good book recommendations coming up…..