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A Most Unusual Guided Tour

14 Apr 2015 1:03 PM | Deleted user

Welcome aboard folks. I know many of you have professional experience in the field, but I must warn you to be prepared at all times during the tour and remember to follow some basic ground rules. They might seem obvious to some, or silly to others, but they have been put in place for very good reason. First, photos are fine, but be aware that the lighting inside is tricky, unpredictable and can change at any time, so don't be surprised if the image you get looks completely unlike what you thought you saw. Rule number two. Please remain with the tour at all times. Last December on the Holiday Tour, we had a young couple who lagged behind so they could have a little private time in one of the rooms. He's still being treated at an inpatient facility because he's convinced that he's the reincarnation of Melville Dewey and she can't speak anything but Mongolian without breaking out in a horrible body rash. Third, please refrain from touching any of the items on display. While most are believed to be benign, there are a few that are capable of changing your personality and outlook completely. That's why we had you sign your tour waiver in the presence of a notary.

Ready to go? Please follow me. There will be time for bathroom breaks and questions at the end. One last comment before we enter, what you see inside may look like complete chaos, but remember that it has functioned in ways that have and continue to amaze many in the profession.

I wait as everyone enters the soft flexible door, waiting to see if anyone comments on its structure, but they're either squinting as they hit the darkened interior or texting God knows who. I wish we could ban those damn things, but once we get inside, it won't matter. The electrical impulses will jam the heck out of any signal.

We call this room the Den of Cluelessness AKA Where I learned to pay it forward. Note the series of early emails between the owner and his peers in the medical library world. As you can see, he came into the profession out of a combination of desperation and bravado. Desperate because his current role as an adult educator in an insane asylum was crumbling and brave because he had the ego and the delusion to claim that he could modernize the library at said asylum. Funny thing, though. He delivered big time, in part because he discovered the Zen of Librarianship. Know what you don't know and then learn it. Note how many responses he got from other librarians as far away as Great Britain, Hong Kong and New Zealand. Amazing how many wanted to play nice. Now, if you look at the wall on the opposite side of the room, you'll see a map of Maine that's covered with yellow pins, more than 150 in fact. Each one represents a library that he's personally visited and in many of them, he offered suggestions and examples of how he figured out various things or better ways to do something. That was the biggest lesson he took away from the era of cluelessness. If you want to keep it, you have to give it away.

I notice several of the tour members making copious notes while a few others are trying to figure out how many libraries they've visited during their career.

We move down the hall with its dark purple velvet wall hangings that depict scenes from books he's read and loved. I never get tired of the amazingly lifelike series from the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. It makes me realize why that series had stuck with him for over thirty years.

I wait until everyone is in the next room which we call the 'You ain't making Progress Until You Piss Someone Off' room. There are about twenty dioramas scattered about on display stands. I like the one with the racy graphic novels tucked into the oversize shelf, but the one that makes the most sense is the one where Christian fiction is housed as far away from Paranormal Romance as possible. One you're not likely to see in many places is the one where the miniature figure's hair stands on end while a teenager cowers in front of the checkout desk. Behind them is a whiteboard that says “Just accept the fact that when you're the entire staff and have a bad day, people are gonna see it, That's what apologies are for.” The other one I like is the same figure bending over an overflowing toilet with the caption, “Taking the plunge took on a whole new meaning when I started working here.” Finally one I doubt many librarians would admit to having a shared experience with, is one where an obese couple are bent over to look at the DVD section and neither one has their derriere adequately covered. This one is captioned thusly “In my next life, I'm mandating taller pants, longer shirts and unisex suspenders.

We exit and walk around the south end where a railing allows everyone to look down at what initially appears to be a termite colony. I admit that it took me three tours before I understood what the boss told me on day one. It's the hall of unfinished projects and ideas. Each of the insect like entities is actually a task, idea or project that he never got to or realized he's never have time to complete, so he tossed them all in a big arena. I'm told that when no one is around, they choose sides and play an old game created by Mad Magazine called 43 Man Squamish.

There are three more rooms currently open to those tour members. The next one has a sign over the door that says “In honor of Dr. Chuckie who taught us that the roof is gonna leak when you least expect it.” Inside are little videos much like you'd see on Youtube or America's Funniest Home Videos. They all feature snippets from his memory of situations that library school could never prepare you for. My favorite is from his days at the Boothbay Harbor Library when he was called by a frantic patron and her husband who had just been fired as managers of a nearby lodging facility and wanted him to come take some books. As the video progresses, you see the couple imploring him to take more and more stuff because they're desperate and can't pack everything. By the time he drives off, his pickup looks like he's headed to join the Beverly Hillbillies and includes three sets of silverware, two dried flower wreaths, pancake mix and maple syrup. In another, he's told by a patron that wild turkey poop killed her husband. It fast forwards to him doing an interview with her for the local newspaper and darned if she wasn't telling the truth. Another favorite is the one featuring a phone call from a woman wanting to reserve the downstairs room for bible study. After he agrees, she asks for directions, and wants to know the nearest intersection coordinates. As the conversation progresses, he realizes that this lady ain't in Hartland Maine, but Hartland Michigan. The offer stands, but he cautions her that her gas bill might be a bit too much. Because there are so many things in this room, we always allow extra time for the tour members to get their fill. It's guaranteed to have half of them laughing and the other half shaking their heads as we move on.

The next room is the one we call 'why a library is like a really fancy restaurant.' When you enter, it's full of holographic images. Most are tables with fine linen cloths and a scattering of books. As you enter, the librarian dressed as a Maitre D, welcomes each tour member and as if being able to read their mind, escorts them to a table, where, Viola! They find a bunch of books that are perfect for them. This is an active reminder room that reinforces two things. A good librarian doesn't have to read everything, but if he/she wants to be really good, they must pay attention to who read what and really liked it and what authors have excited other readers who like these books. This makes pleasing patrons a heck of a lot easier.

The last room has a sign over the door that has a bus with a teen about to be run over inside a big red circle with a diagonal line through it. Inside are endless titles of juvenile and young adult novels scrolling across each wall, followed by reviews he's posted online. Every so often there are random quotes in bold between the reviews. Among them we see the following. “Why do librarians spend so much time trying to get little kids to use libraries, only to avoid them and their needs when they catch the dread disease called puberty?” Then there's “Every day at least one teen will come into your library desperate to be listened to with respect. Will you notice which one it is?” The one I like best is “Almost every teen does the impossible. They grow up, and even more amazing they just might cast the vote that saves the library budget five years from now.”

I notice the tour members are much quieter as we exit the building. In fact almost all of them forget to grab their smartphones as we come out into sunlight again. Maybe they saw something on the tour that was more important than texting. I hope so.

We hope you have enjoyed this tour of a librarian's brain. If someone were to tour yours, what would they find?

Written by John Clark, Hartland Public Library

Maine Library Association

55 N. Main Street, Unit 49

Belchertown, MA 01007


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