The card catalog is gone. Get over it.

I checked out a lady’s grandson today, and then she lost her mind. He was 7, and had three picture books. I should have known from that alone that something weird might happen. These are way beneath his reading level.

I gave him the books and gave her the slip that tells when they were due. She looked at it and said “I hate this.”

It could have meant anything. Maybe the books were due when they were going to be on vacation. Maybe she thought he should have checked out more than three. It could be anything, so I said nothing. Better to not give people ideas about what to hate.

She continued, shaking that slip of paper “You have to keep up with this. You can’t just look in the back of the book.”

I said nothing. I’m not responsible for these new-fangled computers. I’m not the reason we use them to check out books. I can’t fix it – and more importantly, I don’t think it is broken.

I said nothing, as I am wont to do when people are venting. Often saying something only makes it worse. Often, they just want to be mad, and I’m a nearby target. It is one of the dangers of working with the public.

She wandered towards the door, continuing to mutter. She looked back at me, with my stunned face, and said “What – you don’t remember that?” Of course I do. I grew up in libraries. I’m a lot older than I look too. I remember back then. I also know now.

Now is better.

I said “You can renew online – and you couldn’t do that before.” It was the first thing I could think of. She scoffed. She rolled her eyes. She left.

The way we have it now is better. I wasn’t working in the library system then, but I’ve heard the stories. Getting books from another branch was very difficult. Having a hold on a popular book meant the librarians had to keep a long list and check people off. This is impossible with a 21 branch system, with thousands of circulating items.

These days, you can check out and return at any branch. These days, you can check out 100 items. These days, you can request and renew items online, any time of the day – even when the library is closed. You can even download an ebook, and audiobook, a movie, or an album.

You couldn’t do any of that before “in the good old days”. The good old days weren’t even good. This is a lie we tell ourselves.

People were really upset when we got the self-check computers. “I’m computer illiterate!” they’d howl. “This is going to put you out of a job!” they’d screech.

They learned. We kept our jobs.

They were really upset when we did away with the card catalogue too. But they like being able to order books from other libraries. They like being able to know if the book is on the shelf or checked out before they go look for it, too.

Computers can make things easier. It is people that make things hard – on themselves. Adapting to change is the most important life skill that can be learned.

And for the love of all that is holy – don’t yell at the clerk behind the desk. She can’t fix it. She didn’t even cause it. You’re only making her day harder by your need to complain.

Hair covering butterfly

In thinking about my new (sometimes) practice of covering my hair:

I’m comparing it to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. It has to cover itself up in order to transform.

The funniest thing is that it is the easiest way to color my hair. I can have blue or purple hair quite easily and change it very simply. No chemicals, no risk.

I’m of mixed opinions as to people commenting on it. Most people say that they like it and I like to think that what they see is not the covering or the color but they like the fact that I am transforming myself and trying to make myself better than I am. I like to think that what they’re noticing is my practice of self-improvement rather than my fashion sense.

I’m being transferred to a small library in a very close community. I feel that it is very conservative. I’ll be under the microscope for a bit, from the staff as well as the patrons. They are very protective and proud of their library, and they don’t want some stranger in there. I’ll have to let them know early on that I’m OK. Sticking out isn’t going to work.

Nothing sticks out more than covering your head, but it is for religious and modesty reasons. Thus, even though it is unusual, it is unusual in a very conservative way.

I have to work every Saturday now, unless I ask off. That will be tricky, because there are only three people in the branch. There isn’t any wiggle room. Sure, they can borrow from another library in the cluster if needed. I hear it is slow enough that two people can run the library with no problems. This is amazing to me since having just two people in my department was an emergency in my previous library. My department was one of three in that branch.

I’d started covering my head at the library on the Saturdays I work about four months ago. It was my way of remembering that Saturday was the Sabbath, and keeping it different and special. I’d cover at home on my weekends off. I worked every other Saturday on average. It was awkward when I was at work. I got asked questions, people would comment. Generally they liked it. They didn’t really understand, but they were kind. Explaining something as personal as a religious conviction is hard. I had to explain it and get it approved by the branch manager because there is a library policy against head covering (except for religious reasons). I only stuck out at work 26 days a year because I only covered at work every other week on Saturday. Working every Saturday at the new place, I’m going to stick out more.

I remember Jesus says that we should not make our piety obvious. We should pray in private, and not show others our religious acts. They are to be seen by God, not others. Jesus also worked on the Sabbath, and said that the Sabbath was made for us, not the other way around. Jesus also reminds us of the words from the prophet Hosea – “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

So should I worry about working every Saturday? Is Saturday the Sabbath, or is Sunday? Do I have to take a full day off from work to rest, or am I covered if I’m doing God’s work? Should I cover my head or not?

This is all a work in progress.

I think like Jacob, we are praised for wrestling with God. God wants us to actively engage with our faith and our practices. God wants us to be mindful and fully alive. Our practices should draw us closer to God and to other humans. If they put up walls, then we have to stop.

For now, I’m going to modify how I do it. I have seen that opinions vary as to if women are to cover all their hair, or just their head. It is not a commandment to cover – just a tradition, inferred from a story in the Hebrew Bible. In the Christian texts, Paul has his own things to say about it, but Jesus is silent on the matter. So I see it as optional – if it draws me closer to God and reminds me to be kinder to others, then it is good. Since I can’t see my headcovering, it is the pressure of it that reminds me to modify my actions. I can achieve that pressure by tying the tichel like a headband. I’ll be covering my head, getting the pressure as a reminder, but my hair will be exposed as it falls from the back.

I’ll see how this works out. Hopefully it will be seen as a fashion statement and not a religious one. I’m not doing this to make other people change their ways. I’m doing it to change my own.

Getting kids to read.

I know too many people who let their children decide what they are going to read or if they are going to read. This is the same as letting them decide what they are going to eat. No child is going to make good choices. They are going to go for the comic books and the candy. That is why you are their parent. You are there to direct and guide them.

Just like a potter with a lump of clay, the potter shapes it and molds it until it is tall enough and strong enough that it will be useful. It has to be shaped in such a way that it can endure the heat of the kiln and the wear and tear of use.

Children have to be shaped so that they can be strong too. They need to be shaped so that that are good people and helpful and kind. They need to be shaped so that they can survive out in the world and not crack.

So in the same way that you wouldn’t let a child pick out all of his food when he is only going to go for cake and chips, you can’t let him pick out his books when he is only picking out what is essentially junk food for the mind.

Now we all need a little junk food reading every now and then. It is important to let kids have some control over what they select. They need to learn that reading is a pleasure and not a punishment. They need to feel that it is fun and not work. But a solid diet of junk food results in a sick body. A solid diet of junk food reading results in a sick mind.

If you let children have total control that is the same as the potter letting the clay have control. They will be an unformed lump at best. They will be spread all over the place at worst.

Don’t know what to recommend to your child? Go to your local library and ask a librarian. They are there to help. You don’t have to do this on your own, but you do have to do this. The mind you save will be your child’s. The world you will save will be your own.

American Untouchables

There are people in India who were known as the Untouchables. It was a caste. If you were born into a family of Untouchables, you were an Untouchable. You were the poorest of the poor and you weren’t even considered a person. There was no chance of ever bettering your lot – that was just the way it was. Nobody challenged this system for many years because the people who it bothered had no voice in the system, and the people it benefitted created the system.

We too have a system like this, but we don’t talk about it. If you are born poor in America, there is a pretty good chance you will remain poor. Sure, we talk about the American dream, that anybody can become anything. Through determination and hard work you can achieve your goals. We have as President right now a man who was born to a single mother and is of mixed race. That is pretty Untouchable by American standards. That start virtually guarantees poverty and being kicked around by the system. But he went to school and worked hard. He had drive and incentive and became a lawyer, and then a politician. I don’t really care what you think about his policies. What I’m impressed by is that he went from a very low position to a very high one.

Anybody can do this. But first, you have to believe in yourself. You have to put a value on yourself. And then you have to work hard towards a goal.

There are two ladies who have just started coming to the library. They are dirt poor. You can look at them and tell they are poor just by looking at them. Their clothes are ratty. Their hair is wild and unkempt. Their teeth are crooked and stained. Their speech is substandard.

I’ll call them Jackie and Diane. Jackie has to drive Diane around because Diane has an ID only. Diane’s husband is chronically ill and stuck at home. Diane picks up movies from him. It is always movies. Movies are the staple of the poor at the library.

We have a lot of DVDs at our library. Not all of them are movies. Some are TV series. Some are documentaries. The poor rarely get anything educational, and they even more rarely get books.

When they do get books they get romance if they are female, and it is usually low-end romance like “urban erotic fiction” and stuff like the “Grey” novels. The plots are the same in all of these. The story says that you, as a female, are nothing, and will remain nothing until you get a man, who will treat you badly and then leave you, so you will then be less than nothing.

These selections guarantee that the person will stay poor. They guarantee that the person will remain exactly where they are. They are escapism in name only. If they truly want to escape they will better themselves by getting material that is educational. But first they have to see themselves as worthy of escaping.

We may not have an official caste system in America, but we sure do have a self-enforced one.

Book sniffer

I am a book sniffer. The older, the better. Perhaps that is part of why I chose to work in a library. I love the smell of books.

Now, I didn’t get hired at an old library. It was new when I started. You could say it and I started at the same time. It is now 13 years old and the books are just starting to smell pleasant. Fortunately we are part of a system and we get old books in on hold all the time. Every now and then there will be a special one.

A good book smells like fall leaves raked into a pile. It smells like the pile of leaves after you have jumped into it.

A good book smells a bit like vanilla pound cake, fresh out of the oven and cooling on the windowsill.

A good book smells faintly of pipe smoke from your grandfather, while he is warming up by the fire after coming in from the rain. He is sitting in a soft worn leather armchair, wearing his tweed jacket. It is a little bit of all these smells.

A good book smells comfortable and friendly. These smells are the smells of safety and home.

There was a coworker once who shared my love of smelling books. When we’d find one, we’d share it. We’d take the book in our hands, admire the cover and the patina of age on the pages, open it up and have a good sniff.

The branch manager saw us doing this once and openly wondered about our mental health. But, then again, she never read a book to our knowledge.

Now, not all books smell good. Some smell of feet, and cat spray, and the sad sickly smell of too many medicines and ointments and not enough fresh air. Way too many books smell like cheap cigarettes.

But it is the good smelling books that I cherish.

How can you spot a potentially good-smelling book? Covers like this are a sure thing. The original covers have been taken off and the book has been rebound in this amazing stuff. It is beyond the hardness of a hardback. This kind of stuff is going to last forever.



The spines are embossed, either in gold or silver.



The edge of the book looks like this. Note the worn nature and the color.


The corner edge is rounded. That is always a nice touch.


All these different bits point to really old books. That is what you are looking for. Smell the edge, and if that is OK, then open it up and smell the gutter (the inside, opposite the spine) of the book.

Modern books with their fancy ink and high quality paper just won’t do. You are looking for old books with old-fashioned paper.

Happy sniffing!

Evolution of a sinkhole

We have a sinkhole on the land that the library is on. The prevalence of sinkholes is possibly why the family that owned the land donated it to the city rather than selling it. There is a really cool area just past the parking lot that serves as a sort of drain for the area. Heavy rains pour into it, and then sink down. There is a lot of limestone in this section, and trees grow up around it and protect it from (some) erosion.

But then there are other areas away from it that are developing subsidence. There are small sinkholes developing. I’ve taken pictures of one area over time, and just now thought to put a few of them here. I’ll try to keep an eye on it and add more to this story as it develops.

The first time I noticed the extra sinkhole, they had put a barricade around it. They roped it off to prevent people from accidentally falling into it while they got an engineer to figure out what to do.

This is what was decided.

They put a huge tarp in it, and drop boulders into it. The idea was not only to plug up the hole but to prevent more dirt from washing away. They had at least twenty boulders to put in it. It was an all-day event. I’m glad saw this going on because it was pretty cool.

This lasted about a year. Then they had to add more rocks on top of the area, as it had sunk down. They are smaller than the first batch. Here’s the “after” shot.

That was about six months ago. That too has started to subside.

Library buffet.

Libraries are like all you can eat buffets. You can fill up on all sorts of stuff that is good for you, or you can fill up on junk. It is your choice, but also you have to bear the responsibility of your choice. If you are what you eat, you certainly are what you read.

There is something for everyone at the library. No matter what your taste or inclination, there is something for you. Even in fiction, I am constantly amazed at the variety. There are not just multiple genres, but crossovers. Large print Christian Amish suspense. Urban historical Western romance. Zombie romantic comedy. We have it all.

There is a lot of fiction, but also a lot of non fiction. If you want to learn anything about how to improve your health, your business, your marriage, your community, or the world, the library has it.

The library was my salvation when I was a child. It still is. I learned about the secret of Santa Claus from the library. I learned about the secret of sex too. I have no idea if my parents were ever going to clue me in to either one of these things. I learned early on that if I wanted the truth, I was going to find it in a book rather than from them. Even now, if there is anything that I need to know more about, I find a book from the library and learn.

Libraries are also my escape. If life is a little bit heavy, then some Terry Pratchett will lighten it. If life is too predictable, then Neil Gaiman will make things more interesting. Libraries are a place to find new friends for my journey.

Libraries are the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter how poor you are or how uneducated your parents are. With a library you can escape the horrible pull of poverty and ignorance. Yet, just like with a buffet, you can make bad choices too. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say they are bad, but they certainly aren’t nutritious or uplifting.

I’m sad when people use their library to exclusively waste their time and thus their lives. I’m sad when poor parents don’t use the resource of the library to help their children escape the cycle of poverty. Nothing is more empowering than knowledge.

We have a limit of 10 movies that patrons can check out at a time, and there are a stunning amount of people who get that limit and watch them and get then more, every few days. Some people have their wives’ and child’s card and get 30 movies at a time.

What an amazing waste.

Then there is “urban erotic fiction”, with broken English and stereotyped scripts. I’ve already written about how damaging I find that genre. I’m upset that it teaches African-American women that they are things and not people. I’m upset that it teaches them that they aren’t anything unless they have a man, and they aren’t much then either. I’m upset that they are reading the literary equivalent of deep-fried Twinkies. I want them to be empowered, not enslaved.

There are also other choices that aren’t the best. Sure, you don’t have to get educational materials all the time. But I worry about parents who let their children only get comic books. Children are like plants. You have to support them and raise them. They can’t be allowed to just grow up like weeds. They have to have good information put in them.

It is stunning to see the difference between foreign born parents and American born parents. The foreign born ones get educational books for their children. The children learn early on that their job is to learn. They develop healthy habits about learning. The parents choose for their kids the majority of their books.

The American born parents let their children pick out whatever they want. While I’m all for kids having some say in what they read, I know that they aren’t going to push themselves at all. Some, generally lower income ones, let their kids get just movies. This will just continue the cycle of poverty. If they can’t read, they can’t get good jobs.

Library materials and food are the same. If you let a child choose what to eat, he is going to pick junk food and candy. No child picks broccoli and squash if he has had hot dogs and chocolate. I’m not for censorship at the library, the same way I’m not for eliminating fried food at Golden Corral. I am for people being mindful about the repercussions of their choices. Life is short. Choose wisely.