Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tales From the Stacks

by Scott Rawlings, iSchool class of 2003

One of the special aspects of working in a library is the sense of community place. You even get this in an academic library, once you get to know the student body, but I first noticed it in the years before graduate school when I worked as a Library Page in the Olympia Timberland Library. When you work down in the stacks all day you really get to know people, even if tangentially.

For instance, there was this teenager, maybe sixteen, who would come in sometimes with her friends. I was fond of her, though we never spoke to each other. She was doing the old-school punk thing, which I found charming in the same way an older brother just has to grin when his younger brother claims the combat boots out of his sibling’s closet and starts spinning the Ramones and Dead Kennedys albums. You know, glad the ‘kids’ are keeping the sound alive. I liked it that she had a pair of the old red plaid pants worn with suspenders hanging down, rather than those awful tacky oversized raver pants that the kids were wearing at the time. I never talked to her, no one wants some strange guy in their twenties talking to them about ‘ye olden days’ - how lame and creepy. I just would notice when she came in.

And I noticed when she became homeless.

Suddenly she was coming in more often, and not with her friends. She was always with this guy, the kind I new well from my high-school days. He was always doodling and writing stuff in notebooks secretively, probably just parroting some occult malarkey he found in the 130’s-150’s. I had the feeling they wanted an out-of-the-way spot to hide out. She had kind of a worried haunted look.

Soon they were coming in every day, and she was wearing the same clothes, jeans and a navy hooded sweatshirt. They must have lost their crash space, because they came in lugging backpacks and sleeping bags and staying from opening to closing. It was obvious she had run away from home with this kid. So, I kept an eye on her. I didn’t know who she was, nor if she even had a library card with us. It was none of my business what she did, if she was in trouble or on drugs or anything, but I kept checking up to see if she had a black eye or if her arm was in a sling or what have you.

On days I would close up I’d sometimes see the two lugging their stuff further downtown, towards the bus station. I’ve never been homeless, but I had listened to the experiences of my friends and had read about it. It’s good to find 24-hour places to hang out in, for security. Suddenly, they both stopped coming in. I could only pray for them at this point.

Happily, I began to see her come in again with her friends, some time later. She was well-groomed again and sporting an updated look. I just smiled to myself out of relief. I saw her maybe two more times after that but never really met her. She’ll never know I cared.

That is just part of the joy and drama of librarianship.

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