Sunday, March 27, 2011

MJ Returns!

No, I'm not talking about Michael Jackson. Rather, I realized it's been over a week since my last post (gasp!) and although I have several longer pieces in the works, none are ready to be posted yet. Thus, I racked and racked my brain for the most exciting thing to have happened this week. It was as I was thus straining my brain during a maple sugar induced coma (hey, it's Maple Sunday and we visited two sugar shacks!) I realized that something quite out of the ordinary DID occur, as mundane as it may seem! 

Flying high--kite season is upon us!
Perhaps you have already guessed, but when I say "MJ Returns" I am, indeed, speaking of the the "holy marijuana" lady from my previous post!!! It has been nearly a year since the holy marijuana episode occurred, and just recently I was speaking with someone about how I have not seen the woman since. She must have sensed my thoughts because the very next day I walked out of the Teen Room and there she was, waiting at the Reference Desk for someone to help her find books on Wicca spells and Paganism. I wish I could report that she was hollering and having a fit like last year, but she was shockingly calm (though perhaps a bit vacant, as before), and once she received the books she needed she sat down quietly in a chair and began reading through them. The only thing slightly out-of-the-ordinary was when I noticed her quietly chanting to herself while rubbing a tattoo on her forearm. For a brief moment my imagination turned her into the vacant, stumbling zombie of last year, sitting in a chair clawing at her arm amidst a screen of murky fog and scowling with reddened eyes at the book in her lap. Her hair became gnarled and patchy, her teeth yellowed, and a greenish tinge seeped into the coloration of her face. And just as quickly, the vision was gone-- replaced once again by the quiet, chanting woman by a window in the library. Such an anticlimactic, mundane and unfulfilling incident, yet such a chance encounter! 

Little does this woman know that she is infamous amongst my circle of friends...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Repeat Offenders: Put That Away!

Time to play a little game. Imagine it’s a weekday morning, a bit brisk but the sun is warm. Spring is in the air and as you walk to work (at the public library) you can’t help but look up at the blue sky and smile at the city doves overhead. In the distance you hear the faint sound of laughter and smile as a warm breeze combs through your hair. Ahhh, you think, what a delightful morning.
Yes indeed, what a delightful morning it is! There’s a spring to your step as you turn the lock to the back door and bounce up the steps to the Reference floor. You smile at your coworkers and exchange sincere, “Good morning!” messages before passing through the public computer lab to your office. You sit down, open your computer and set to work catching up on correspondences, tracking program participation, and updating the monthly program stats. You begin to hear a quiet, steady flow of people entering the library, the beeping of the computer reservation station, and the soothing clickety-click-clack-click of keys typing away next door. Occasionally a cell phone will ring or the muffled sound of music through headphones can be heard coming from the lab, but for the most part all is calm.

Around mid-morning, you decide to take a short tea break. You grab your mug, put your computer into “sleep” mode, stand up and walk out of your office. Out of habit, you glance around at the faces in the public computer lab with a friendly smile--

And then you see it.

Any semblance of a smile disappears when you notice the screen filled with close-up images of amateur hardcore pornography: a grainy video maximized across the entire monitor displaying a side view of some overly-busty woman’s gyrating butt cheeks slapping together to the rhythm of some paunch-bellied dude’s vigorous thrusts. It’s a ‘deer in the headlights’ moment where you freeze, confused, and can’t seem to tear your eyes away even though your brain is churning a million miles per hour trying to process and respond to what is taking place. You notice a baby in a stroller beside the offensive computer user; it coos a little bit and spits up on itself. You follow suit and vomit a little in your mouth.

At my library, we do not have any filters in place (except for in the Children’s Department) because they sometimes will filter out the ‘wrong’ websites. For example, if someone is trying to research the long-term psychological effects of, say, child sex slavery (a recent homework assignment for some of the high school health students), the combination of “child” and “sex” search terms may bring up some academic articles, but presumably many inappropriate websites as well. A filter may not accurately tell the difference between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sites and could block them all. Thus, in order to give the public the best access to any and all mind-enriching information, we function almost exclusively on an honor system. Each computer user has to accept the computer policy prior to beginning any computer session, and it is then their responsibility to use the computers appropriately. For the most part, staff do not ‘spy’ on computer users, but on occasion when we do notice illegal computer activity on the screen we will boot the offending user off with a warning.  A second offence warrants a temporary (30 day) computer ban, and following offences may receive heftier reprimands.

The challenge, of course, is that libraries are built around free access to information-- and personal privacy. Thus, records of ‘repeat offenders’ on the computers are not kept except mentally by staff. If we are aware that someone has looked at pornography two or three times, then we can act accordingly, but with hundreds of people passing through and using the computers each day it gets increasingly complicated to remember who has had one warning versus five.

So what do you do? There you are, gaping at a disgusting and demeaning video trying to figure out how to confront the offender. Maybe half a second passes, maybe less, but it feels like an hour. Then all of a sudden the offender seems to notice you and quickly minimizes the video to reveal another window--Facebook--as an innocent cover. You think to yourself, Do you really believe that I didn’t just see that? I know you weren’t looking at Facebook! How dumb do you think I am? And at that moment the offender catches your eye in an attempt to tell if you saw their little video or not. Apparently your face is very revealing because they quickly avert their eyes and slump lower in their chair like a guilty 15-year-old.

It’s always so awkward to approach these individuals and reprimand them publicly because they often protest and sometimes  revert to using derogatory language. It’s especially awkward to approach them if they are in the midst of some personal ‘heavy petting’ because, well, that’s just awkward in general! On a few occasions I’ve slipped back into my office and written brief notes that say:

Do you know it’s against library policy to look at pornography on the public computers? Not only that, but you can lose your library privileges. Please do not do it again.

I fold the note in half and drop it next to the offender’s keyboard as I walk past. I feel like making a personal connection like that-- the whole ‘I know you know that I know’ thing-- may be intimidating enough to at least make them take a break for a while. But the frustrating thing is that often people just don’t care. They’ll be back the next day watching their grainy videos and rubbing themselves ‘discretely’ in the public computer lab, no matter how many times staff talk to them, suspend their cards, or otherwise reprimand them.

There was one noteworthy incident where I was in my office when all of a sudden a loud commotion broke out in the computer lab. Some woman with an incredibly shrill voice started laying into a guy that she obviously observed engaged in inappropriate conduct:

“That’s fucking disgusting, this is a public library! I don’t want to come in here and see that shit every time I want to send an e-mail! You fucking lowlife, go hide in an ally and do that shit, don’t do it here!”

“What, I’m not doing anything,” was the man’s mumbled reply. It only sent the woman further into a frenzy.

“You most certainly are doing something! Every time I come in here you’re watching nasty ass pornography and rubbing your penis. I have my daughter with me, and she’s got to sit next to some pervert rubbing himself while I’m trying to print off my taxes. Fuckin’ sick, that’s what it is! You’ve got to be sick to be doing that shit here, fucking sick in the head.”

By this time, everyone in the computer lab had stopped typing and were obviously watching the antics. I wondered why no one at the Reference Desk had stepped in to mediate the situation, or at least get the two to quiet down. Then I realized that a fellow patron laying into this guy was probably more effective at embarrassing him than any of us librarians (who have probably warned him multiple times already) would have been. Thus, despite my natural impulse to step out of my office and quiet things down, I decided to let it run its course.

“Shut up, bitch, I’m not doing anything!”

“This is a LIBRARY! It’s posted in the rules that you can’t watch pornography in here! It’s a public place, pervert! There are kids in here, and I can’t sit by quietly while you’re grunting and rubbing yourself in front of not only my daughter, but all the people in this room!” Her voice was getting louder (if that was possible) and I could hear the man push back his chair and start putting his jacket on.

“Yeah that’s right, walk away, pretend nothing happened. I know you’ll be back in here tomorrow doing the same nasty ass shit. Fucking sick, this is a LIBRARY!”

The man mumbled something that sounded a lot like, “Fuck you, bitch,” as he exited the computer lab. The woman hollered after him, “Don’t forget to zip your fly!”

This whole incident was exceptionally loud, and after the man left it felt like a shocked quiet was suffocating the room. I almost expected everyone to start clapping after a brief pause, but no one did. Generally I get tense around direct confrontations, but this time I found myself almost ecstatic! I wanted to shout, “You go, girl! Thank you!” I knew exactly who she had been yelling at, and apparently her aggressive tone and public humiliation stint did a number on the guy, because he hasn’t been back to the library since.

So there you are, burning holes in the back of the offender’s head and contemplating your next move. Do you confront them verbally right then and there? Do you end their computer session immediately? Do you give them a warning?  If I was a fellow public computer lab user, I’d probably follow the lead of the woman above (to a lesser extent) and firmly ask the offender to put that shit away!

What would you do?

The Banner Project

This is the fabulous fabric banner that my kids are creating for permanent display at the library! This image was taken by a photographer from the local newspaper, and is just too splendid not to share. Each youth picks their own fabric background square and can add a collage of cloth words, shapes, textures and embellishments that they feel relates to their self identity. After a few more weeks of work, all of the pieces will be sewn together into a double-sided banner that will eventually be hung on display in the library. Fantastic work by a fantastic group of students! Reason number 5,395,350 why I love my job.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Thanks to "My Kids"

They're not really mine, but I've come to affectionately refer to any teenage user of the library as one of "my kids." They come from all backgrounds, but the majority of them are from low socioeconomic statuses and many are recent immigrants to America. Some are homeless. Most fit in multiple minority and marginalized groups. All of them are priceless.

Each day I struggle to engage them, to find ways to relate to them, to find activities they enjoy. Each day they test my patience, push boundaries, act out, bounce up, stand strong. Each day they frustrate me and enlighten me.

Yesterday was my birthday, and when one of my friends at the library told a few individual students in the homework help lab, the kids apparently went into a frenzy. Several of them took the lead and decorated a poster board with a giant "Happy Birthday Molly!" message and proceeded to take the larger-than-life sized card around to everyone in homework help. I was oblivious, and was helping an English language learner stumble through some complicated passages of Barbara Kingsolver's "The Bean Trees" when a group of my kids snuck up behind me in a semi-circle. They were (shockingly!) quiet for once and the only thing that gave them away was a slight giggle from one of the younger girls. As I turned around, expecting to deliver a soft "hushhh" to the giggler, my eyes popped with surprise as 20 kids shouted "HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOLLY!" with the absolute sunniest smiles on their faces, collaboratively holding the large card out in front. 

I could not stop smiling. My day turned from a lovely day to an extraordinarily perfect day. I gave them all hugs and thanked them individually for making the card and surprising me, but I couldn't even begin to express the happiness in my heart. The only reason the tears didn't run down my face is because the sunshine bursting from within caused the tears to evaporate before they could fully form, and left a rainbow in their place. 

What I wish I had said to them:
Thank you for giving me the privilege to be part of your lives. You have all taught me so much. Thank you. Thank you. 

Thank you. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Librarians: Check It Out

Sometimes I wish I were a sassier librarian.

Being the youngest on staff and also being female seems to imply that every lonely guy wandering through thinks he's being original by hitting on me. To be honest, sometimes it's funny— the best 'pick-up' line recently was this guy who gave me the eye-over and then asked with a laugh, "Hey, are you Mother Nature or sumptin?"  I wasn't sure how to take it so I looked him in the eye and gave a curt, "No." Unphased, he laughed again and remarked, "Aw man, I was hopin' I'd get to ask you about the weather!" 

Screeeeeet. Wait a second, back that up. You were hoping you'd get to ask me about the weather?

I can't even begin to describe the seemingly countless men who have sauntered up to the desk and asked me, "Where can I find this book?" only for me to lead them into the isolation of the stacks where they proceed to get increasingly sketch. Sometimes they'll start off with what I like to call the availability questions:

"How long you worked here, beautiful?"
"You married? No? A'ight!"
"How old are you?" 

Other times they'll jump straight to the point:

"Can I get your number, girl? Forget about the book, I just needed an excuse to get you alone!"
“You wanna, you know, go somewhere?”
Or, one of my all-time favorites: "Roses are red, violets are blue, angels are perfect and so are you. How ‘bout a hug, dear?"

The directness can either result in extreme awkwardness or immediate shutdown, depending on how confident or patient I'm feeling on any given day. My inner voice is shouting, "I'm working here, and not a street corner, so get the hell out of my bubble!" But I am too introverted to give in to the temptations of these outbursts, and would probably find myself blushing with embarrassment and tripping over my words if I even tried. Besides, anger only spreads anger, and I'm sure that if I negatively shut down some hopeful guy there’s a good chance he’d spread that negativity to the next lady he came across. Yes, my feminist side dies a little every time I have to ignore a crude comment. Fortunately, I have a very active imagination which I use to pretend I’m a taser-wielding, crotch-kicking, badass dreaded librarian who rides around on a motorcycle tracking down perverted men to obtain revenge for their womanizing deeds. Ok, yes: basically I imagine myself as a dreadlocked version of Lisbeth Salander from the Steig Larson trilogy.  Hey, a girl can dream.

I know the whole “sexy librarian” fetish may be an explanation for some of this behavior, but I honestly don’t understand how a gnarly headed girl in corduroy pants and lumpy wool sweaters can act as a magnet for so many men. There are a number of guys who visit on a near daily basis just so they can “see my smiling face.”  There are others who stare at me and try to start conversations and then awkwardly stumble away mumbling to themselves.  And then there are the guys who are interested, but will vocalize aspects of myself that should change to better fit their fantasies or preferences. I find one visitor particularly entertaining—he’s a big biker dude with tattoos crawling up his neck from below the collar of his t-shirt, with a pitted nose that looks like it’s taken a few too many punches. Not necessarily a bad looking guy, but he definitely has a good 30 years of age on me.  Anyway, he comes in regularly to read the paper and look at hot biker chicks on the internet, and about once a week he’ll make the same comment to me:

“I don’t get that hair of yours. I have this girl, looks just like you but without that hair. She could be a model if she wanted to. But with that hair… I just don’t get it.” Then he’ll launch into some variation of the same lecture about what makes a woman beautiful and how a woman should look and act if they want a guy to pick them up. Somewhere, a ‘subtle’ hint will be dropped that I should get rid of the hideous deformity covering my scalp or I’ll end up an ugly spinster.

Thanks, buddy. Unfortunately for you, I’m not interested in what supposedly makes a woman beautiful in your perspective.  I can do whatever I want to my hair and no amount of influence from you will convince me otherwise.  Besides, it's presumptuous on many levels to assume I'm looking for male attention.

Then there’s the guy who comes in several times a week and will loiter around my office or the Reference Desk waiting to tell me his latest stories. He always manages to slip in some comment about me ‘being his girlfriend,’ and I’ve given up trying to correct these delusions because it only launches him into a frenzied monologue about how he wants to take my boyfriend into the wrestling ring and fight for my undying love. That might be considered chivalrous to some damsels in distress, but not this dreaded librarian.

Working at a public library has forced me into some exceptionally awkward situations, but over the past 18 months I’ve learned a lot of life lessons that explain a lot of classic “stern librarian” behavior:

1.      Don’t smile very often—it only encourages romantic delusions.
2.      Do not engage in ‘normal’ conversation. This means asking no questions other than those related to library services, maintaining persistent and (hopefully) intimidating eye contact to dissuade creepy behavior  (the whole “I’m watching you sternly over the top of my spectacles” thing), and attempting to “shush” people into silence when they start awkwardly asking personal questions (Excuse me sir, you’re being too loud. Sorry, but this is a library).
3.      Wear lumpy, shapeless sweaters even in the summer time to hide any suggestion of feminine form. 

Yes, sometimes I wish I was a sassier librarian, one who would stand my ground and shut down interested individuals in a Lisbeth Salander kind of way. However, doing so would probably result in the loss of my job. For now, I’ll just have to make due with lumpy sweaters and stern glances over my plastic-rimmed glasses.

Despite the potential judgmental (and overly stereotypically heterosexual) nature of this blog entry, I intend it to be humorous and hopefully non-offensive. Additionally, I would like to conclude with a giant kudos to all these gentlemen who, of all places, choose the public library to try and pick up girls. To me, it implies that they are seeking intelligence and potential nerdiness above superficial characteristics, which is rather flattering. Perhaps that is a personal delusion of sorts, but I like to occasionally give in to the benefits of doubt. 

So to all of my gentlemen admirers-- stay classy, and best of luck finding a nerdy partner. Now please leave me alone!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring Spirits

No dreaded librarian’s life is complete without a constant thirst for self-education. I spend all day surrounded by thousands of books housing infinite answers to the obscurest reference inquiries imaginable. I love it.

About a year ago my partner stumbled across a fabulous find: a book by the name of “Wild Fermentation,” which both of us had been eying enviously for quite some time. My partner liked the idea of doing some home brewing, and I like the idea of using wild edibles as the basis of these creations.  Spring was bursting through the urban seams of this derelict city, so we took a stroll through the neighborhood collecting fresh dandelion blooms from cracked parking lots, newly turned community gardens, sidewalks, and tenant building yards.  Following a recipe from the book, we assembled the makings of a fruity dandelion, apricot and honey wine and set it to rest in our closet. It was an easy wine with a 3 month fermentation period followed by 6 months of aging; quick results that we looked forward to enjoying in the depths of winter as a hopeful reminder of spring!

Life at the library continued for nearly a year, with a very snowy winter pounding us with real Maine storms every week until the snowbanks I walk by each morning were taller than my shoulder. I frequently thought of Ray Bradbury’s story in which he refers to dandelion wine as liquid sunshine. After a long, cold day at work, a little liquid sunshine sounded like the perfect stress remedy. I imagined opening the fermentation bucket and smelling aromas of fresh grass and nectar. Over and over I tried to imagine what that first sip would be like—would the apricots burst across my palette? Would it taste like dandelions blossoming on my tongue? 

And then one night it happened, quite by chance. We had invited some friends over to help us with our second brewing experiment (beer this time), and as we went to place the second fermentation bucket in the closet, we saw the intentionally neglected, dusty top of the dandelion wine. It had been in there for quite some time (we never siphoned it into bottles because during the fermentation period the closet got too hot and the yeast died, so we had to add more). Our frustrations over our first fermentation experiment had grown: no matter what we did or how long we waited, the hydrometer reading never changed, suggesting that the little yeast babies were not converting all that delicious honey into alcohol. However, with a kitchen full of friends excited about our success with the beer making, we decided to open the dandelion wine barrel and see what we had created.

The lid was pried off and we all leaned a little closer to catch that first aroma—I closed my eyes in anticipation of pleasant perfumes, and imagined tiny green spikes of grass pushing through brown earth in raw sunshine. Suddenly, my friend jumped back from the bucket, sputtering with watery eyes. Everyone else groaned a little or emitted shocked expressions. I soon understood. It smelled like we had made moonshine. Rather, it smelled like we had mixed moonshine with decomposing fruit and stirred in a hefty helping of bread dough. We dished out small portions to everyone and took the first taste with mixed reactions. I knew for certain that the hydrometer reading was meaningless, because regardless of what this was, it was definitely alcoholic!

No wine is complete without a ridiculous description to accompany it. I am a huge fan of wine bottle descriptions: the more ridiculous, the more likely I am to buy it. I know that my personal palette will not be able to tell the difference between “subtle tobacco flavors” and “oak barrel tannins,” so my judgment of the descriptions is based loosely on my warped sense of humor. I must say, even though our wine tasted particularly awful, I felt ever so much more inclined to drink it after finishing the draft of our description:

"Imagine a crisp autumn day in New England picking Granny Smith apples from the orchard.  The afternoon sun shines through and BAM, you’re suddenly drinking LIQUID SUNSHINE. Fresh plucked dandelions from Blake Street Garden form the foundation of this crisp wine, with aromas of apples and warm compost. The flavors of fruity bourbon squeezed from the utters of God are best enjoyed in ill-lit kitchens with friends. If the taste doesn’t entice you, the practicality will: you can disinfect a wound with this shit.”

Who isn't enticed by the idea of sipping fruity bourbon squeezed from the utters of God? Ok, ok, perhaps our first fermentation experiment was a failure, but above all it was a learning experience: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Knotty Behavior

The town I work and live in is a mess of mysteries. Industry has blossomed and vanished, leaving an empty feeling around the ghostly remains of the abandoned textile mills. Downtown businesses enjoyed a period of steady growth, but started closing their doors and skipping out once the money stopped rolling in. Enormous brick buildings, once filled with a cacophony of whirling machinery powered by the river through a series of canals, now loom as a depressing backdrop. Broken windows stand out like missing teeth in the skeletal remains.

Every few decades a mill will go up in flames, and the whole city will gather to watch it burn, saddened by the disappearance of another part of their past.  Yet after the smoke clears they still see the building standing there amidst the rubble, a phantom memory that haunts them eternally. Nothing ever truly vanishes.

A ghost town, you might say. 

A ghost town is what I was looking for.

I am, after all, the Dreaded Librarian.  It’s informally written into my title to seek out crime and stop it dread—I mean dead—in its tracks, and there’s no better place to hunt for such dreadful behavior than ghost towns. It’s easy for crime to disappear into the shadows, but at some point or another most everyone is going to pass through the public library. People need their public computer porn, tax forms, bathrooms, and books on topics ranging from hand gun sales to backyard barbecue. No right-minded criminal is going to jump into action without doing their research first. So in my unassuming role as Teen Librarian, I have the ultimate cover: not only do I have access to free, unlimited books and databases for my crime-fighting research, but I can also keep an eye out for the lawless characters attempting to blend in with the masses. If I had my way, I’d get them all locked up for good.

Enough with the dreadlock puns. It’s just hard to resist when they become such a permanent feature and integral asset to my dual personality: the edgy but innocent librarian versus the focused bloodhound. One time while pursuing a complicated drug trafficking scandal I managed to fly undercover as the “Rasta,” gaining entry into increasingly smaller concentric circles of the PSDC (Pine Street Drug Chain) until I found myself in the same room as the infamous Rad, a well known pimp and ringleader among the group. That’s one case I shouldn’t have been involved with. The rest of the gang had gone out for a beer run when he found the false lens in my eyeglasses that transmitted video footage via secure wireless connection to my vamped up laptop.  Shit hit the fan, hard. Rad picked up a vodka bottle by the neck (Orloff, I believe) and smashed it against the doorframe. The bottom half of the bottle dissolved into glass splinters that sparked through the room in snowy incandescence. The jagged neck remained firmly in his grasp as he descended upon me.

I’ve had dreadlocks for over 3 years now, and by this point they reach more than halfway down my back. I ran into trouble back when I got into swing dance and I ended up smacking my partner in the face with a heavy load of hair every time he gave me a spin. That was back when I had baby dreads—they barely reached my shoulders. These days, my 60 dreadlocks are more deadly, loaded with a combination of wooden and glass beads, copper wire, and even a twisted silver spoon handle. If someone were to spin me now without allowing me to first adequately restrain my hair in a series of complicated knots that even Boy Scouts would be proud of, then they’d be in for one hell of a knock-out experience.

As Rad lurched towards me, ragged bottle neck extended, I launched into action. Years of chopping wood on my family’s rural Maine farm have bulked up my arms enough that I can usually fend for myself against moderately sized felons. However, Rad was well over 6 feet tall and incredibly angry. I could practically see the adrenaline seeping from his skin. I knew I couldn’t by any means get out of there alive using mere brute force, so I switched tactics and went into defense mode. I needed him to get a bit closer before I reacted, so I began retreating until my back was eight inches from the wall.

The bottle neck was three feet from my face, two feet, and then Rad swept his arm out to the right in anticipation of the delivery of a grizzly blow and stepped in closer. I took the tiny opening he provided while the bottle neck was extended to the side and quickly spun on my heel. My heavy hair arched in a swirling circle and made impact across the lower portion of Rad’s face. The move had the desired effect—he recoiled in pain, having just been whipped forcefully in the face by 60 dreadlocks and losing a tooth thanks to the silver spoon handle. He began dropping to his knees as I completed my circuit, and a few rogue dreads found themselves tangled in the jaws of the bottle still held in his hand. I felt a tug and then realized that one of them had been sliced clean through. I followed my spin with a quick kick to his right hand that sent the remainder of the bottle flying until it crashed and splintered upon impact with the floor, then circled back with a side kick that hit Rad at the shoulder with enough force to knock him sideways, but not seriously injure him. I grabbed the severed dreadlock from where it lay on the floor and used it to tie his hands behind his back before picking up my ancient flip-phone and dialing my friends at the Police Department.

“You’re where?” Officer Labreck asked.

“You heard me. I’m at the PSDC Headquarters with video footage of their latest operations from the last 6 months, and I’ve got Rad. He’s tied up, but you should send back-up before his crew gets back from their beer run.” My cell phone was started to beep at me. I quickly looked at the screen. The library was calling. Shit, it’s already 3pm.

“Copy that. Ladd, you’ve got a lot to explain. Once again, I have no idea how you did it.”

“I’ll tell you the whole story later, Labreck, but I’ve got to get back to the library. The kids will be arriving soon for afterschool. We can grab a brew at the Blue Moose after I get off work, say 8pm?”

“I’ll be there.”

“Oh yeah, one more thing,” I added quickly. “Rad is tied up with a personal belonging. I’d like to make sure I get it back.”

“A personal belonging? Like your belt?”

“Not exactly. You’ll see. Just make sure I get it back, ok?” As I spoke, I reached up to finger the stubby remains of the severed dreadlock. I’ll try to sew it back on tomorrow.

“Copy that. See you at 8.”

Rad stared up at me from his place on the floor with such contempt that I almost felt sorry for him. The shattered remains of the vodka bottle looked like snow on the hardwood floor.

I found a book at the library once that said human hair is one of the strongest natural fibers in the world, and I don’t doubt it.  In this case, it proved stronger than my muscles would have been, so I’m not exaggerating when I say that my dreadlocks are one of my strongest assets in my role as the Dreaded Librarian. I remember walking out of the ragged headquarters on Pine Street, stepping over Rad, now in handcuffs, and having a final, entertaining thought to conclude my day’s adventure:

I could beat Willow Smith in a hair whipping competition any day.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Holy Marijuana!

While working on the Reference Desk, I have come to accept and even look forward to offbeat and outlandish requests. In college, I worked for a time as a bank teller, and the repetitive nature of basic transactions became monotonous-- deposits, withdrawals, and account balances were about the extent of my day, with the exception of one or two "Cruella de Vil" customers who raised a ruckus about identification or money swindling on every possible occasion. In contrast, working at the Reference Desk has provided me with ample opportunities to learn about the most random trivia through varied research for individuals. One of my favorite patrons is a middle age gentlemen who sports pink miniskirts and long, frazzled hair and always dishes out fashion compliments with his research requests.

"Don't you look nice today! Can you tell me what the biggest tree in the world is, and where I can find it? That's such a lovely scarf you're wearing. Hey, what's the longest scarf that's ever been made? What was it made out of? Was it knitted or woven?"

And off I go on research quests pertaining to the longest bridge or limousine,  the heaviest pumpkin or tallest tree (I even learned, to my surprise, that a tiny town in New Zealand boasts the "World's Largest Sweater." Apparently it took a man 25 years to invent a machine specifically designed to knit a sweater the size of a wall in a large warehouse. Who knew?).

But the strangest request of all came from a rather unassuming woman in her late 30's wearing a beige sweater with enough pills and cat hair on it to almost be chic in a hipster sort of way.  She had a vacant look about her that reminded me of those grainy photographs from the 1960's portraying groups of swaying hippies at folk festivals, with dark moons under her eyes and a few extra pounds around her middle. She shuffled through the bookstacks for a good thirty minutes,  then sat staring at a blank computer screen for another thirty minutes before creeping up to the Reference Desk with a sudden and maniacal glint in her otherwise expressionless eyes. She stared at me with ferocity.

My "Good afternoon, how may I help you?" was met with a blank stare. Ok, I thought as she stared, unblinking, into my eyes. This is a bit strange. Still, nothing I haven't dealt with before. "Did you want to use a computer?" I asked with a smile. Again, nothing but an unblinking stare, and then a hushed, "No," quiet as a whisper. "Can I help you find a book?" Without breaking her eerie eye contact she again replied, "No." I decided to try one last approach and asked, "Is there anything else I can help you with, ma'am? Anything at all?" But for a third time I received a simple, "No," before she turned on her heel and began walking away, finally breaking her relentless stare and retreating like a zombie from a low-budget horror film. I turned to my coworker on the desk who raised her eyebrows in sympathy before both of us set back to work.

To my surprise, I suddenly heard an enthusiastic, "YES!" from across the room and glanced up to see the expressionless woman with the beige sweater marching back to the desk, eyes wide. "Yes, you must help me. I need your help!" I silently put my index finger to my lips to imply she was being too loud before calmly asking, "How may I help you?" I was expecting either a request to use a public computer, or maybe an odd personal research request for tattoos or witchcraft books. Heck, I wouldn't have been surprised if she had asked for an application to Hogwarts to meet Harry Potter. Instead, the request she blurted out (none too quietly, I might add) caused our roles to reverse in terms of vacant stares. I could not help put gape in awkward confusion when she launched into her story. Our conversation went something like this:

"You need to help me! I need your help! It's essential that we get it back-- the police stole it from us!"

"Sorry, I don't understand."

"They stole it from us, the police! It was in the church, and we need it back or else we're all going to suffer! Satan will know it's gone and he'll come for us if we don't get it back. I need you to help me. I need you to call the police and tell them to give it back!"

"I'm not sure I understand. Get what back?"

"THE HOLY MARIJUANA! The police STOLE IT FROM THE CHURCH! We need to GET THE HOLY MARIJUANA BACK! You need to help me! If the holy marijuana is gone from the church then Satan will know where to find us. He MIGHT BE COMING ALREADY!"

I must have been in shock because I forgot to do my librarian "shush" thing despite the fact that she was yelling about "holy marijuana" in a public library and causing lots of perturbed stares from other patrons. Fortunately, my boss heard the hubbub, noticed my vacantly shocked expression, and came to the rescue. Between the two of us, it took at least another five minutes to convince the screaming woman with the beige sweater that we knew nothing about her holy marijuana, nor could we call the police and demand that they return it. She did not relinquish any more details, and eventually retreated back into her (presumably) drug-induced glaze without any further requests. I could not help but imagine a low-budget zombie character limping off through the bookstacks into an illusion of graveyard fog on a personal crusade for the holy marijuana, never to be seen or heard from again.

By far the strangest request I have experienced yet.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How Things Came to Be This Way

Having recently been given a copy of the book "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn, I have since been pondering the reiterating philosophy explored in the book questioning how things came to be this way. Of course, Ishmael is speaking about the entirety of our planet Earth and the contrasting ideologies of the Leavers versus the Takers, and while this topic is fascinating it is far too expansive to explore today. Rather, I am contemplating how things came to be this way in my own diminutive life. Here I am, a 23-soon-to-be-24-year-old Teen Services Coordinator at a fantastic and rather non-traditional library in a depressed Maine mill town. I have never taken an education or library class, barely know the difference between the 540's and the 720's of my pal Dewey's Decimal System, and despite being the teen librarian have never read "Catcher in the Rye," "The Chocolate War," or "Holes." 

On the surface, how things came to be this way is relatively simple: I graduated from a small New England liberal arts college with a degree in Environmental Studies and needed to pay off a bunch of student loans. The large public library in my college city was hiring a VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) to help coordinate their teen programs in the absence of a tried and true teen librarian. I had a fairly solid knowledge of the community and had done both service learning and community work study with youth while in college and rather enjoyed it. I applied for the position despite fears that an "indoor job" would drive me mentally insane, was hired, and quickly became welcomed into the fantastic staff circle at the public library.

Despite the apparent simplicity in this explanation for how things came to be this way, there are always underlying stories. Stories of humor, stories of hardship; some are stories we come to believe as truths over time when reality becomes too surreal. Libraries are full of stories that I hope to explore through this online journal- and I'm not just talking about books! During the last 18 months I have been witness to some of the most unbelievable requests, found myself in the midst of full on fist-fights, tutored the most inspirational youth, started a range of programs for teens, and learned from subsequent failures and successes. With the end of my position quickly approaching in front of my very eyes, I decided that it would benefit my mental health (and hopefully create a few laughs along the way!) to start a blog of my experiences as the infamous Dreaded Librarian!