Since I was a six-year old runt trying to keep up with my seven-year old superstar sister, I have been reading books, and lots of them. I remember my mother showing me how to tell what grade level the book was for, and I would always go after the ones at least three grade levels above my own. Of course I wouldn’t always know every single meaning to every single word, so I would have my old red Dictionary handy to look them up. If I didn’t understand the definitions I would see my mom about it, and hope she knew. Otherwise, I would have to skip over them. And the glory of those books was that I could have a plethora of them whenever I wanted. Because that was the same year I discovered the library.
From that point on what I wanted to do was work in a library, but I never thought it would be possible. It seemed to me like everyone who worked in a library had to be middle aged or a woman, and I was neither, so I sucked it up and said it wouldn’t happen. Then I grew up and went to college, a place beyond my wildest dreams that had an incredible library of its own. As luck would have it, my mother’s friend worked in the campus library and put in a good word for me. Before I knew it, I was working the job I thought I would never have, a job in the library.
Just like everything else, though, it seems, what I wanted and what ended up happening were two completely different things. Yes, I was working at the library, but it wasn’t what I would consider the glamor job, being where all the action was, at one of the big desks. Instead I was carted off down the stairs, into the bowels of the building, stuck in this little room with no windows, and put in charge of using the computer systems to locate interlibrary loans books for students. It was tedious work, and I had very little actual interaction with living, breathing human beings. Not quite what I had expected.
My breaks were the best parts of my day, when I was released into the main library to just soak in the books. I would sometimes head to the stacks, grab a book at random, sit down on one of the stools, and read for fifteen minutes. At other times I would go upstairs to the break room, relax on one of the couches and just close my eyes, getting all nostalgic for my idea of what the job would entail. Somehow I was even able to make a couple of work friends during the course of my two months in the ILL office, but they were few and far between.
That’s when I saw the internal posting. They were looking for someone to work at the circulation desk, which was to me the mecca of all things library-related. The circulation desk was where all the action happened, in my opinion. It was facing the door so you got to see everyone coming in or out of the library. Anyone who wanted to check out books had to go there. Do you have any clue how fast I got in my application? Two weeks later the head of circulation herself came down to ILL to give me the good news. I was the newest member of the circulation staff. I did the dance of joy.
The next week I was finally sitting behind the big desk, checking out books and making small-talk with all manner of students. It was just as exciting as I had always hoped it would be. I catalogued books. I went into the stacks regularly to retrieve books and put books away. And I was even instrumental in helping institute a new bar code system. Many new people entered my sphere, and I began making lots of friends, some of whom are still very much in my life today. Several of those new friends worked with me at the desk, but there were numerous others who I met from the other side of that desk who became close confidantes. That’s what I loved most about the job. Not the books, and not even the freedom from that small, stuffy room, but what the freedom brought me.
Sure, there were some odd moments at the desk, like the time the three guys in suits and bowties asked me if I knew Jesus and gave me pamphlets. Or the time the frazzled girl stopped by and told me she was being followed. Or even the time during finals week when I worked for the vast majority of 24 hours, and stayed awake for nearly an entire week. It was never a dull moment at the circulation desk, and it was never a dull moment for the entirety of the two years I worked there. The job introduced me to so much I would have never known or seen before.
Oh, and the books, ah the books. I still can’t smell a book without going back there.