We have this couple who comes into the library a lot.
While they haven’t been coming in forever, I’ve assisted them enough lately to know their first and last names. Always an accomplishment, since everyone always seems to know mine either from my name tag or from once working at the local paper.
If I had to guess, they’re around my age (31 if you’re counting) and seem to be well matched. They talk to each other respectfully from what I’ve seen — if seeing them for 15 minutes a day in the library counts. He’s especially quiet; she a little less so. One day, I caught him gently kiss her on the cheek.
Why does any of this matter? Because to simply walk by them in Wal-Mart, you’d probably cross to another aisle. They’re covered in tattoos. Like, for real, covered in tattoos. They’re a little scary from the outset to look at.
But this couple is one of the many, many reasons why I love working at the public library part time in addition to my job as youth minister.
Libraries make you better.
It’s impossible to enter into a library and leave less of a human than you were when you entered.
Coming in to update your Facebook account using our free public computers? I’m glad we could help you connect socially with society.
Coming in to find the latest King/Patterson/MacComber/Brown/Brown/Brown/Evanovich novel? I’m happy to help occupy your mind.
Coming in to make copies? I’m pleased to help you preserve a memory and share information.
Coming in to fax your time sheet to your boss in another county? I’m thrilled we could help you secure another paycheck.
Coming in to print out a form to present to a judge to divorce your abusive ex-husband? Yup, I’d be pleased to escort you to our law computers for such a time as this.
Of course, working with the public has its drawbacks. I hate telling a teenager that I can’t check out a book to him or her because a family member ran up an exorbitant fine on their account years ago. Patrons smell bad sometimes. And we’ve found feces in the elevator. Multiple times.
But this is our community. These are our people. This is who we share life with.
My lady and gent have for sure known rougher times — face tattoos aren’t mere products of too many beers at a frat party. When they come in, they usually check out their limit of DVDs on each of their cards, and don’t complain when I inconvenience them due to a policy conflict here or there.
A few weeks ago, the wife asked me for help finding 12 Step books. I was elated to show her the aisle where we keep books of that nature. With the husband following, she was enraptured to find exactly what she was looking for on the shelf, and seemed determined to help someone. Maybe her. But maybe not.
Before we reached the self-help and therapy section of the stacks, a full-color, photograph-heavy cookbook was on one of the displays. “Do you have any more cookbooks like that around here?” she asked.
I felt like a maître d’ in a fancy restaurant, straightening my tie and jacket and puffing up my chest with pride, knowing my little library’s FABULOUS cookbook section. “Oh! Do we have cookbooks!”
I whisked them both back to books about meats, jams, jellies, weight-loss, and Paleo. I showed them recipes for cookies, cakes, breads, meatloaf, and paella. “Basically from here,” and I ran my hands around hundreds of books, “to here, are going to be all your books about cooking. Why don’t I leave you guys alone and you can look around. Just come up front when you’re ready to check out.”
It was an “everything the light can touch” moment a la Disney’s “Lion King” where Mufasa was demonstrating to Simba the reaches of the lion pride kingdom.
“How many books are you allowed to check out?” she asked.
“Unlimited,” I responded.
Those who visit the library are such a conglomeration of people, it’s astounding. It’s rich and poor, upscale and downtrodden, intellectual and remedial. It’s Hispanic mothers and fathers who bring in their children on the weekends and bring home books and movies — in English. It’s recent additions to the local halfway house looking for something to do (which often does include flirting with library assistant clerks, but, ahem, who’s complaining?). It’s SAHMs bringing toddlers to story time. It’s disabled persons looking for someone to help them make sense out of a letter in the mail. It’s an elderly grandma coming in for help working her smart phone. It’s the guy working the barge who wants to know why his E-Reader won’t come on any more.
Some of our patrons leave and go to homes full of all the comforts a capitalistic society can offer. Some go to homes subsidized by the government. Some don’t ever go home, but park for hours in a chair and read, or sit in the lobby and chat, or sleep in the garden or somewhere else close by.
And I’m thankful the library can make something about each of their lives better.
We have an agreement with the halfway houses where we offer their clients computer-use only cards while they are staying at those facilities. We always tell the men who apply for the cards that they are welcome to be bumped up to full library privileges should they get a permanent address and stay in the community.
An older gentleman with one of the computer use only cards came through this week, and brought proof of his new address, and requested that he get a new card. He had come through his program, and had found a place to live, he said.
“Well, sir, congratulations! What a wonderful accomplishment!” I told him with a big smile.
He looked at me, startled. Then started grinning himself. “Thank you! Yes, thank you!”
Better. We help you leave better.
My lady and gent left that day with two giant bags of books and DVDs.
They left the library that day better than when they came in.
And I did, too.