The moment I walk through the doors of a library, I find myself hanging my head in remorse, even though I don’t know yet what I’ve done wrong, but I know it will be something, such as taking a book out of its properly numbered and categorized spot on some shelf on the third floor in the back corner, and finally deciding I don’t want it, and shoving it onto the shelf again, but into the wrong gap, so that I hear the soft rush of the card catalog’s collapse all around me in the stratosphere, a tragedy that has occurred because of my spatial deficiencies and attitude of carelessness and entitlement.
Or I’ll take a battered paperback mystery novel from the front table of freebies that are actually not free because the sign says, “Suggested donation: $1.00,” and I’ll bite my lip sheepishly with the knowledge that I don’t have an actual dollar to give, being a person that never carries cash anymore, and realizing that the library seems like a cash-operations kind of place, sort of stuck about twenty years back, you know, and I will walk around the display, looking for more promising books, but ultimately decide that the three librarians roaming behind the circulation desk are watching me a little too closely, and most of the books are sci-fi anyway, and a searing cloak of guilt around my heart will compel me to lay the one novel that caught my attention, one of Danielle Steele’s classics, back into the musty cardboard box.
Or I’ll fail to notice the small glob of peanut butter on my thumb from lunch, and when I turn the page of the 656-page Annotated Huckleberry Finn (intrigued, naturally, because I am a high school English teacher and what high school English teacher doesn’t teach Huckleberry Finn and doesn’t want to tell her students exactly what a persimmon is), I will inadvertently smear the peanut butter on one of the high-gloss pages, and try to rub it out with the underside of my shirt, but make the stain greasier and larger in the process, and start to panic because so many children are allergic to nuts these days, and if I were responsible for their death I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, and I will decide to not say anything and slam the book shut and hope for the best, but also worry that my fingerprints will be all over it, so if the librarians want to find the murderer of the Honors English student who is writing her final project on Twain’s novel, they will have no problem doing so…and I’ll think, maybe I’ll deserve whatever fate befalls me, being the inconsiderate slob that I am and forgetting to wash my hands after eating a peanut butter sandwich and then having the nerve to touch a book in the library.
Or I’ll be in the library on the campus of the high school where I teach, dutifully fulfilling the enlightening proctoring responsibilities that come with being a teacher, and when I approach students to tell them to keep their voices down, they will say with very serious expressions that they are quizzing one another on Chem or Trig because they have a test next period, and I will believe them, and two minutes later I will be back at their table because their voices have grown too loud again, but they will insist that they are studying, and I will give them another chance because we are, after all, in a library, where people are supposed to be able to study—and what precisely is the acceptable auditory threshold for studying?—and I also read an article once about how schools promote too much independent learning, thus fostering anxiety, competition, and eventually a pandemic of “plagiarism,” when really we should be encouraging “collaboration,” and so I will think about this article as I am patrolling the library and my desire to be progressive will battle with my desire to stamp out the unbridled, arrogant joy of young people, especially when it flies in the face of my attempts to discipline them, and within ten minutes I will be sobbing in the women’s bathroom, because their ability to dupe me into thinking that they are well-behaved will have broken me down completely, and I’ll think, what was this master’s degree in Education even for, if I can’t figure out how to proctor a library?
Or I’ll be all the way on one side of that same school library, admonishing a kid for laughing at a friend’s joke, and from the other end, one of the librarians will be talking to the other librarian about a new shipment from the NOBLE Consortium or a new access code to EasyBib, and neither of them will lower her voice at all, so that their conversation reverberates throughout the entire room, which is practically half the length of a football field, and then I will wonder whether they are speaking loud on purpose to demonstrate to the students who’s in charge around here, or whether they pretend that there is a bubble around the circulation desk for their own sanity, and I wouldn’t blame them, or whether they just aren’t aware of how loud they are, and I will think, if they don’t have to worry about how loud they are, then why have I been sobbing in the women’s bathroom?, but then shortly thereafter, they will kick out an entire pack of freshmen who have gotten too rowdy in their exchange of short story vocabulary term definitions, and I will be back in the women’s bathroom, because seriously, I am not even sure who I am anymore.
Or I’ll be looking at my fingertips pressed against the coarse plastic laminate under which all library books suffocate, and think, even though I’m not a hypochondriac, how many other fingers (covered in mucus and other bodily secretions, dirt, miniscule strands of hair and cat fuzz, and peanut butter) have pressed against this plastic, and I immediately want to drop the book, slather myself with sanitizer, and run straight to the nearest Barnes & Noble, where I can hand-select a fresh, uncreased, virgin-paged novel from a shelf of thousands of other fresh, uncreased, virgin-paged novels, take it home and know that I am that novel’s one and only monogamous reader, that I am a reader who commits rather than uses and passes on, that I will pledge to read this story once, twice, three times, four, however many times it takes for me to understand it and fully love it, that the underlinings in it will be my markings, my symbols of communication with it, and that it and I will be permanent partners, family members, no coarse plastic barriers separating us, preserving unnecessary distance.
Or I will be down in my basement, looking for a board game for my kids, and I will happen across Edna Ferber’s novel, Fanny Herself, which I borrowed from the Melrose Public Library back in 2009 for one of my English master’s courses at UMass Boston and never returned, and despite being nowhere near that library, I will, of course, hang my head in remorse, and think, What kind of a monster am I?, and for once, and only once, I will thank the Technology God because these days I can do all of my research with online databases, and so if I ever go back to get a PhD, after my family kills me, I can just hole myself up in my digitally-wired coffin and look up library books and articles remotely, and reminisce about the days, back around the turn of the century when I was finishing my first master’s degree, when I had to trudge by T into the BPL and figure out the mystery that was the microfiche, and carry around a Ziploc baggie full of dimes for the photocopier, and submit requests to have library volunteers climb up into the attic where they kept the annals of “special reserves,” the books that were written by those educational theorists from the 1800s, and practically get fingerprinted before I could put my hands on them.
Or I will come home from work to discover a note in my daughter’s backpack that says “The following books are overdue. Please return them as soon as possible of pay a fine of $25: Misha the Basketball Fairy; Poppy and Periwinkle Make Something Fun Out of Plaster; Sam the Nutjob Squirrel,” and I will run around the house like Sam the Nutjob Squirrel searching fruitlessly for these books, which I don’t remember seeing coming home in the first place, and cursing myself because I know that if I don’t return them, Maddie won’t be allowed to take out any more books, and she will be the only one in her class who has to leave behind her education in the Media Center on Tuesdays, and it will be all my fault, the working mother who doesn’t notice anything and whose disorganization and absenteeism cause her child undue embarrassment, and I will have a temper tantrum that night at dinner and decide to write a check for five hundred Ben Franklins made out to the Lynnfield Public Schools to cover all of the library books that Maddie will inevitably check out and lose over the next decade until she goes to college.
Or I will decide to write a blog post about not really liking libraries, and I will venture to read the policies on appropriate library conduct on a fairly well-known library’s website, and feel a little nauseated when I conjure visions of why the library had to develop these statutes in the first place, including prohibitions of the following activities on the premises: “Stalking, staring, lurking, offensive touching, and obscene acts such as sex acts and indecent exposure”; “fighting or challenging to fight, running, pushing, shoving, and throwing things”; “using restrooms for bathing and shampooing”; or “entering the library with offensive body odor or personal hygiene.”
#10 Or on the morning of the last day of school where I teach, I will be running around like a madwoman making sure my first period class has bagels and cream cheese from a gourmet bakery, and rainbow Twizzlers, and Arnold Palmers, all to thank them for a great year, and also freaking out because their laptops won’t connect to the WiFi in our subterranean classroom, and three of them still need to deliver final presentations, and I will receive an e-mail from one of the librarians that goes a little something like this:
Jackson Tolerio lost Much Ado About Nothing, which he took out for your class. We have found him during lunch at the cafeteria and discussed this matter with him, left messages on his cell phone, at his house, and at each of his parents’ place of business, written him e-mails, Tweeted to him, Facebooked him, spray-painted his car with warnings, hired a propeller plane to fly signage over his house, sent a man in an Elizabethan outfit to his front door to give him the message via singing telegram, and called Hank Phillipi Ryan to produce a 7News segment on his delinquency to let him know he must replace it, pay $25 [what is it with that $25 fine?], or return it, and our attempts have had no result.
Do you think you could help us by bribing him to bring it back? Perhaps he needs a few more points on his fourth quarter grade, or maybe he likes Shipyard Melonhead beer? We need that book for next year, so any assistance you could provide would be much appreciated.
…and maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you catch my drift, and even though I love the librarians at our school and they have been extraordinary comrades to me throughout my career, I just don’t think I have the power to lure Shakespeare’s text back out of the black hole that is Jackson Tolerio’s life, because in the end, nobody really cares whether the libraries get back their books or not, especially teenage boys, and especially aspiring writers who never want to see their own novels condomed in coarse plastic, out-of-date and out-of-touch, crammed into a foster home for books that nobody wants to adopt for good.