Preus Library, third floor stacks.

Friday could not come quickly enough.  Of course, I had some sleuthing to do in the meantime to keep me busy.

Brittany went back to her research after our impromptu luncheon and I started my own research into the janitorial department on the campus database.

There were three men on janitorial staff with “A” names, either first or last.  Andrew King, Aaron Tyler and Lee Aronson.  None of them had the library listed as the building they frequented.  I would have to keep an eye out during Linda’s Paideia class to see who popped by.

Taking my phone out of my purse, I see there’s a message from Jamie.

“Can’t wait until Friday.  Miss you.”

Charming, as usual.  I respond with

“;-)  Me, too.”

I cannot stand being tethered to my desk for the rest of the afternoon.  I go into the Interlibrary Loan student work area where Madeline is busy printing off requests from the database.  (The one I should be working with, not the one I’m using to pry into my supervisor’s love life.)

“Madeline, I need to stretch my legs.  Would you mind if I go pull these requests from the stacks?”

“That would be great, Ms. Watson, I’m swapped trying to copy and fax all these articles from the Journal of Sleep Medicine.”

“I see.  Just focus on that and I’ll take this stack of requests and pull them.”


We are one of the few libraries that has the past ten years of the Journal of Sleep Medicine.  I am constantly fielding requests from libraries that want to borrow our journals.  Since the archives are so rare, they need to be kept in our library at all times.  I have to tell them no, but we’d be happy to fax them selected articles.  Those interested in the field of sleep medicine must by intrinsically lazy, because more often than not, they simply request all the articles in a volume.

I grab a metal cart and the stack of requests.  Descending in the elevator, I am comforted and distracted by waves of familiarity.  There is something almost divine about spending time in the stacks.  When I worked in the library as a college student, one of my favorite things to do was shelf-read.

Shelf-reading involves taking a section of the library and going through, shelf by shelf, and making sure all the books are in order.  I would also get to front the books, meaning that I would line up each individual book, one by one until they were all perfectly at the front of the shelf and in order.  Shelf-reading only gets done once a year, during the summer.  And now that I am a full-fledged librarian, I doubt I’ll get to do it any more.  That honor will be reserved for the lucky couple of students who decide to spend their summer working at the library.

Today’s task is not shelf-reading, it is finding what resources we have that other libraries want.  A biography of Marie Curie, the history of France during the revolution, specific translations of great works of literature.  When I have pulled all the titles requested from the database, I have roughly eighteen books.  With Madeline busy copying from the journals, I can make the excuse to finish shipping these out myself.

Packaging Interlibrary Loan requests is not unlike wrapping presents at Christmas.  First, I scan them at the computer, similar to purchasing items from a gift registry.  Then, I carefully wrap our Interlibrary Loan label around them, so they know who the book/gift is from.  I carefully write the due date at the bottom of the label.  Then, I choose what kind of packaging.  The easiest way to go is to find a bubble mailer of appropriate size.  The newer the mailer, the more quickly the packaging process goes.

I encourage students to recycle lightly used mailers that brought books to us.  When we reuse mailers, it’s important to black out old addresses or put new mailing addresses over them.  This has a slight feeling of re-gifting about it.  For older books or videos, I wrap them in copious amounts of bubble wrap and then place the now-squishy egg of an item into a cardboard box.

And then comes the tape gun.

Tape guns are quite possibly the most wonderful invention in the world of packing supplies.  We have four different tape guns.  Two with clear tape and two with packing tape.  I feel powerful while wielding one.  It is hard to be indecisive when brandishing a tape gun.  I usually put on way more tape than is necessary, which is probably very annoying to whomever opens the package.  But there is something supremely satisfying about smothering a package in ribbons of packing tape.

It takes me most of the afternoon to package everything up.  True, this could have waited until tomorrow, but I feel much better having moved around the library instead of answering emails at my desk.

Madeline is gone by the time I finish.  Around five o’clock, the library becomes a different animal.  Most of the librarians go home, except whoever has to work the reference desk.  Students flood the library after dinner, either to use the computer labs, or to get academic work done in a quiet setting.  There is the feeling of all the adults having gone home and children being up far past their bedtime.  I like the library at night.  The students feel less supervised and more free.

I head into my office to pack up my things.  Jane, the librarian closest in age to me, knocks on my door.

“Hi, Dorothy.  I hate to ask a favor, but my babysitter cancelled last minute.  Is there any chance that you’d be willing to work the reference desk for me tonight?  I’d be happy to trade a weekend shift with you or something.”

I am feeling unusually generous tonight and don’t have other plans.

“Sure, Jane, no problem.”

“Oh my gosh, thanks.  Can I go run and get you something from the student union for dinner before I go?”

“Don’t worry about it–I’m not that hungry and I’m sure I have a Cliff bar or something in my bag to tide me over if I do.”

“You are such a lifesaver, thanks so much!”

The evening shift at the reference desk is usually pretty easy.  Most of the students who come to the library at night are engrossed in whatever project they have brought to work on and don’t need outside help.  Every once in a while someone wanders over to ask for help, but for the most part, it ends up being an opportunity to people watch.

I bring my things out to the reference desk and boot up my laptop.  I have several unanswered emails from the afternoon, which I answer.

From my perch at the reference desk, I can see into some of the library offices.  A figure in black catches my eye.  I have to squint a minute, but it looks like Linda in a black trenchcoat and sunglasses.  She pops into her office and then sneaks out the back door.  I’m assuming it’s to get her CD of love letters read aloud by the mysterious janitor known only to me as “A.”

I sigh.  Drama just follows some people around.

I entertain myself by googling myself and some friends from college.  None of us have done anything extraordinary, but it’s still nice to be in the know.

I have one student come up and ask me if he can use Cliff Notes as a primary source on a research paper.  I find it difficult to keep a straight face while I tell him he cannot. He is incredulous and storms out of the library.

I am trying to gain composure when another student approaches the desk.

“Well, hey there, little lady, what did you do, break that poor boy’s heart?”

This is one of the downsides to working the reference desk.  College boys who think that I am a student working at the reference desk instead of a librarian.

“Nope, I was just doing my job and he didn’t like the answer I gave him.”

I change my tone to be terse and professional.

“What job is that, being a full-time hottie?”

Christ, I hate this part of the job.

“No, my job is being a librarian and assisting students with their research needs.”

“You’re lying.  You’re too young to be a librarian.”

“I received my graduate degree in June.  I am just the right age to be a librarian.  Now, is there information I can help you find?”

“Uh, yeah, you can help me find your number.”

“What’s your name?”


“Brandon.  Listen to me very carefully.  I am not going to give you my number.  Also, I am not going to let you continue to annoy me.  If you’d like some help finding an article or a book for a research paper or project, I would be glad to assist you.  Otherwise, I would kindly ask you to leave me alone and hit on girls closer to your age.  Or better yet, stop hitting on girls and focus more on your school work.  College is not all about partying and getting laid.  Hopefully at the end of your four years, or in your case, possibly five or six, you will have gained some knowledge and can go forth to contribute to society in a positive way.  That is our hope here at Luther College.  Now, do you have any more questions?”

Brandon looks down at his feet sheepishly.  He takes his backpack off, hunts in a folder and pulls out a syllabus.

“Could you help me find some primary source material concerning Rasputin?”

“It would be my pleasure, Brandon.  Let’s find some dirt on that Russian creep.”

Oh, the joys of being a college librarian.