Tales of Paperback Proportions
I put on my most modest cotton Banana Republic capris and
brown moccasins. I put my hair in a bun for extra effect. It was humid
outside, so curls sprung out from all over my head in a fashion that
ensured I’d be single for months to come, a factor that really drove
the look home. I asked for Jane at the circulation desk, just like she
told me to. I’d arrived on time for my interview at the local public
I am and always have been an avid reader. Anyone who knows
me, even on a surface level, will tell you I am an enormous nerd.
Words in their blissful abundance on fresh pages of crisp paper are my
drug. I took the old adage never judge a book by its cover literally
by around fourth grade. I would read everything that came my way. I
devoured Harry Potter like a bag of colorful skittles. I read Melody
Carlson by moonlight. Judy Blume became my surrogate mother. I picked
up Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for the
first time in eighth grade. I vividly remember the most popular girl
in school sitting next to me before lacrosse practice. We were sitting
on our sticks, and I could tell she was staring at me out of the
corner of my eye. I looked up and asked if I could help her. I was
offense and she was defense so I couldn’t really make her angry. Not
to mention, my fragile eighth grade psyche was in her very capable
hands. Instead of berating me, she was looking at me with a sort of
awe. She took the book away and flipped to the last page. (If she
thought she was going to read the last page first, it was only over my
very socially dead body I was going to let her do it.) But instead,
she took note of the page number aloud and commended me. She told me
that she wished she was as smart as me and there was no way her mother
could buy her enough Vuitton to convince her to read this. I thanked
her and went back to my book.
Anyone who would need a bribe, even if it was the seductive Vuitton
bag I always admired on her shoulder, clearly wasn’t worth it. I
received a phone call a few days after my feet had recovered from the
moccasins. It was Jane telling me I had the job. And so began a
beautiful relationship between myself and the safe harbor for all the
literature in my Eastern Long Island town.
Upon my library initiation, I was introduced to a very
placid work environment. I was informed I would be serving as a Tech
Page. This position was in the back office secluded from the rest of
the library. The office was one big room that housed fifteen women,
one male, and an indestructible stash of chocolate. I was sat at a big
wooden desk covered in plastic and trained on the spot. Kathy was my
trainer. She was a 43 year old mother of two. She was six years my
mother’s senior and had two boys much younger than me. We quickly
figured out her oldest son was on my younger brother’s lacrosse team
for several years. They were now in middle school together. This
automatically bonded Kathy and me. I had probably sat in the
bleachers, freezing my eyelashes off while yelling at her son to ‘back
off the D’ and then pretending it was directed at my brother. That
will do it every time.
Diane was the page that sat next me. Kathy continued to
train me for weeks to come, until I could finally be trusted to read
the spine labels and decipher fiction from non-fiction by myself. (It
was imperative to remember that non-fiction was not only numbered, it
sometimes had a B on top. This stood for biography, hence clearly not
fiction.) After Kathy had deemed me worthy of biblio-independence, I
was set free to do my craft. I was hired to cover books. I laminated,
covered, taped, glued, and stamped like
a maniac. I still do. Each book is an untouched masterpiece waiting to
be preserved. We pages are the ones to instill this magic.
Diane and I bonded, as she was chomping at the bits to
relive her youth. We traded stories from high school and discussed
inappropriate subject matter. The whole idea is excellent; I am being
paid ten dollars an hour to cover marvelous creations while discussing
underwear style and Vodka induced mini golf. Soon all the women in the
office were ready to take a trip down memory lane. Sixty-six year old
Maggie who sits across from me was recounting her escapades with
Chuck, the handsome Army officer who left for war just as their
relationship was blossoming. She never did get over him and still has
to think before she calls her husband’s name to make sure it doesn’t
come out wrong. They told me about their lives as a natural result of
wanting to hear about mine. What they didn’t realize is that I haven’t
got much to tell them. I don’t drink Vodka, I play mini golf by the
rules, and I would be intimidated by a handsome soldier. Still, they
pried. I gave them what I could and let the blank spaces be filled by
their imaginations. I told them about the dates I went on. They oohed
and aahed in all the right spots. They loved the scandalous age
difference between me and one of the guys I was dating. They were
thrilled when the next one was even older. They offered me advice and
I invited their children (and grandchildren) to the youth group I
lead. They were always prying for more. They wanted juicy details.
They didn’t believe that I had no sex life to speak of, but when I
told them it was voluntary, they suddenly believed in one steady line
of rolling eyes.
I spent several months enjoying the tech atmosphere. I am still sure
that Jane is the best boss I have had and will ever have. She is
intelligent, compassionate, and understanding. She gave me the Adam
Duritz poster that now looms over my library desk, wedged between my
Hannah Montana message board and cutout of a JIF peanut butter jar.
This makes her legendary in my book.
When summer time rolled around, I was supposed to be
studying abroad in Spain. This fell through when my mother lost her
job. I was upset, but Jane had an opportunity for me. She offered me
full time in the children’s department doing registration for the
summer reading program. Due to my naïveté, I accepted eagerly. I was
trained by Meghan, a children’s librarian and coordinator of the
entire program. Meghan is a nervous giggler. She giggles so much; it
makes you as the listener nervous. It only takes as much as a simple
“hi” and she’s off. After a hysterical training session, I was
prepared to take on the patrons.
Children’s is like a different country. Perhaps even
continent. There are these gorgeous stories perched everywhere the eye
can see. Stuffed animals and blocks are scattered around the area. It
all looks very quaint, until there are actually children to utilize
these supplies. Suddenly, there is life. There is laughter. There is
whining, tears, and the smell of diapers. Mothers are screaming while
being assaulted by flying Sippy cups. They are shuffling around in
their Michael Kors sandals with their Coach baby bags throwing their
child’s library card around like it’s their job. The librarians are
also of a slightly different breed. They straighten their hair and
quilt their lunch in Vera Bradley. They drive shiny new cars and
pretend to have patience for kids, but very few of them are
mothers themselves. I sat behind my desk making no noise and avoiding
eye contact with any potential threats to my mental safety. This was
not Tech, and I had no ruby red slippers to bring me back.
Occasionally Diane and our other friend Rachel would sneak out and
bring me supplies. When they thought I was sufficiently stocked with
Snickers and Crunch bars, I stopped seeing them. I was alone.
I quickly learned that there are several ways to
categorize mothers. I will share two of the most prevalent with you.
First, there are the new mommies. These mommies are bright and shiny.
They still have their hair hi-lighted and matching socks. They tote
their firstborn around like a golden statue to be adored by all. The
kid is usually wrapped in some kind of designer sundress. Catch them
in the winter and you will see the smallest Ugg boots to ever grace
the library tile. The perfect example of this Mother A is Melanie
Rose’s mom. Melanie Rose’s mom defines herself by little else. Only
Melanie Rose. Little Melanie has big blue eyes and short curly blond
hair. Her mommy is about 5’4”, weighs maybe 100 lbs. soaking wet, and
is wearing a white wife beater, huge rock on her wedding finger, and
Seven Jeans. She sits down and means business. She has a sunny yellow
folder with her. I eye the front of it and see doodles. Doodles of
roses done in black Bic pen and a loopy drawing of her daughter’s name
in cursive in the middle. I decide to give her the benefit of the
doubt and think that she was bored in the doctor’s office before
coming here. The idea that she took the time out to decorate Melanie’s
summer reading folder is just shy of absurd. A folder is not even a
Mother B is, well, seasoned. She has gray roots and Kmart
sweats. She is lucky she found socks this morning as are all of her
kids. She shares their snacks of cheetos and chocolate milk because
what woman wouldn’t if it was in the house? Melanie Rose’s mom feeds
her organic broccoli and Honest-Tea juice pouches. There is no chance
for mommy bingeing. Mother B’s children get to me before she does.
They wait for their library cards and ask what the prizes are. I show
them and they are upset that they have to read books to get the
plastic butterflies. Can’t they have the prizes now and read the books
later? Mother B rolls her eyes a lot and asks if this job is the best
birth control I’ve ever had. I tell her that I worked at a daycare for
two years before coming here. Melanie Rose’s mom winces at the words
On the last day of my summer duties, I was sad to go.
Mommy watching had panned out to be the best entertainment any
workplace could offer. I met so many new little friends and even saw
some old ones from the daycare. The librarians all turned out to be
super sweet, if not a little catty. But only behind each other’s
backs. It was a hot August day when I dropped my knockoff Chanel
sunglasses into last year’s J.Crew tote bag and made my way back down
to Tech. Oh, how I was glad to be home.
Back at my desk, I was thrilled to find things the same.
My laminate was freshly stocked. The book covers stacked high to my
left. My scissors were sharp and my glue was full. Best of all, there
were shelves and shelves full of unwrapped books, waiting for my
return. I breathed in the stuffy air and saw an outstretched hand with
a bite sized crunch bar in its palm. I thanked Maggie and took the
gift. Biting into the chocolate, I realized this could very well be my
calling. Could it be that this job, this place was where I belonged?
There are days when Jane’s biggest problems are a confused spine label
fallen victim to the evil of the Dewey Decimal System.
I recall the time when the other reference librarian, and
only male in our office, Robert, opened up the delivery for the day.
He had been waiting for this delivery for some time because it
contained The Sports Book, a long awaited addition to our reference
collection. This book contained all the answers to every game play
question one could ever have. What Robert didn’t realize was what the
book looked like. He didn’t pay attention to the back to front, total
absorption of Astroturf. This book was covered in Astroturf. They
asked me what I could do to preserve it and I suggested just putting
polyester corners on all four sides but no, they weren’t having it.
How would they adhere the spine label? What would they do when the
Astroturf started molting? Jane was furious and told Robert to send it
back. He adamantly refused. This book was staying in the collection,
whether she liked it or not. So Jane called every other library on
Long Island to make her point. Not one library had it. Clearly it was
against library ethics and needed to be sent back immediately. Robert
cradled it to his chest, took it to the spine label maker and stared
at them both for a few minutes. He eventually looked back at Jane with
what we all expected to be wistful defeat, but instead his eyes were
alight with a new idea. He grabbed the hot glue gun and the scissors.
In just a few minutes, he had permanently adhered the spine label and
dressed up its corners for safety. Jane nodded her approval and the
book was his forever.
Tech has changed me. When I become an author one day, I
will make sure my bio is in an accessible place, so that it is not
covered by a brown manila due date pocket. I will make my books
hardcover and with no print on the inside because this is the tech
page’s dream. I respect the Master’s of Library Science degree and
hope to even have my own one day. I’d like to join the leagues of
catty children’s librarians. They have the most fun. And I will
always, always accept a book, no matter what is on the cover. Or what
it is made out of.