I worked for three different libraries over a six year period. This is the poem of closure I wrote after it was done for a challenge with my writer group. (The Amazing Cedar)
For further library shenanigans I recommend I Work at a Public Library
New books are crisp and clean. You want to hold them and make friends with them.
Dirty books are sticky and feel contaminated. If they are broken, they are recycled.
I used to hate recycling books. I kept as many as I could, because every story is sacred.
It’s Monday, I’m helping someone find the stories of a murder in 1927. I’m helping a woman find the artist of her family painting. I’m helping an old man find his favorite flamenco dancer. Someone checks out Harry Potter for the first time. Someone left their plain ticket in a biography. That book has been to Germany.
It’s Tuesday, I’m being told to ‘back off’ for asking for a library card. I’m being yelled at for asking for the patterns in a sewing book back. A man is turning his obsessive energy on me because he wants to find his kids, who don’t want to be found. I give my coat to a homeless kid, because it’s going to be 20* and he has nowhere to go. The doors close, and I wonder why warm buildings sit empty when people freeze in the street.
It’s Wednesday, I’m teaching an 80-year-old woman how to download ebooks. I’m explaining to a library board member that an app isn’t the same as software. I’m telling a kid to turn his music down, and he reaches for a volume switch on the keyboard that isn’t there. A cheerful man asks for the Kama Sutra. A polite man asks for the Satanic Bible, and is angry at the person who stole our only copy. A woman runs back in and apologized for not scanning her books. She doesn't know the alarms were taken out years ago.
It’s Thursday, I watch teens devour thick volumes of fiction, curled small in armchairs with their headphones dangling from under their hoods. They give adults suspicious looks. I envy their escape. A bright-eyed kid asks me for a good adventure story, I see the exact moment the light leaves his eyes when his mother scolds him for reading things that are too “easy”. I wonder if the light will ever return. I put on gloves and spray antiseptic on a homeless man’s gouged hand, which shakes when I spray it. I give him paper towels and bandages from our first-aid kit. His friend thanks me with genuine gratitude for helping, as if they thought no one would.
A quiet homeless man sits alone and reads Marvel comic books. His beard is years outgrown and his walk is always wobbly from booze. He takes one book from the shelf, sits quietly and reads, then he puts it back. He is here every day; our scholar of superheroes. I wonder what he would say about heroes if anyone asked him? A young woman asks for help to write a will, and you see in her face it’s unexpectedly for her. A middle aged woman looks down her nose at me when I tell her there is no “Christian fiction” section. A woman asks me to explain what a transvestite is. The homeless kid comes back and tells me he found a place to stay, and that he gave the coat to another who needed it. We take a moment to feel good about things that work out. I take an article from National Geographic to a woman in Hospice, who wants to read about her favorite place one more time. A kid asks me if snake eggs float, and I cannot find the answer.
A man gets angry, throws things, swears at us, and scares the customers. I watch him get arrested across the street. Maybe he didn’t read enough, maybe he read too much.
What if they planted gardens instead of stealing bikes? What if they made shelters instead of rolling joints? What if we made them care, how much could that change?
When I read a book, I change.
When I watch them read, I’m watching them change.
I don’t keep all the books anymore.
I get rid of the corrupted ones,
So things have a chance to change.