In the last few months I’ve begun work at two new jobs: one at New Bookshop, the other in a public library. Now that I’ve settled in to both, I have to say I’m living the dream. I see all the new releases as soon as they hit the shelves, and can either borrow them from the library or buy them with my enviable staff discount. It’s pretty perfect. When I left Old Bookshop, one of my colleagues said, “You leaving this place is like you dying to me. But knowing you’re going to a library is knowing you’re going to heaven.” It was touching, really, in a backward kind of way, and I took it as such.
Nevertheless, I’ve found myself undertaking tasks I didn’t think were strictly in my job description. It’s probably not such a stretch to imagine one might end up running story time at the bookshop. When The Boss asked if my colleague or I would read a few picture books out to 2-5 year olds, I said nothing. My colleague responded with, “Erin, are you glaring at me because you want me to do it?” That was exactly why I was glaring at her, as she well knew, and so the task fell to her. But then, wouldn’t you know, she wasn’t actually going to be in attendance on the day, so the task fell a little further and I somewhat reluctantly caught it. She had already chosen the books, so I took them home to practise. I surprised myself by how seriously I took the task: I read them aloud to myself, trying out different voices as the stories required. I watched the part of You’ve Got Mail where Meg Ryan’s character reads aloud to the kids. If a professional actress can do it, how hard could it possibly be?
On arrival at the shop the morning of the big day, it became apparent that the book selections were a touch ambitious: none of the attendees fit the 2-5 year age bracket. The Boss asked which books I’d feel comfortable with for our younger audience.
“Well, since this week it’s 20 years since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone came out, why don’t I read that? I could do the illustrated edition. You know, for the kids.”
“You’d have to be able to read it upside down so the kids can see the pages.”
“I probably don’t even need to see the text. I think I know it well enough.”
“I know you do. But you’re not doing it. What was that one you were looking at yesterday, Things I Love About Me?”
“Oh yeah, I read through that but it didn’t turn out to be about me personally so I’m not sure.”
“Great, do that one. And what about Hairy Maclary?”
“I guess I could do Hairy Maclary.”
It was show time. I started with Stuck by Oliver Jeffers. One of the kids got up and walked off, which was mildly reassuring: no matter how I went, these kids were unlikely to even notice. They 100% could not tell the difference between me and a giraffe. The children then learnt about a few lovable things about me, including my eyes, nose, smile and toes. My kindness also rated a mention, which I felt was fitting given the circumstances. Hairy Maclary’s Bone was the hit of the day, and because a straggler toddled in right at the end, I grabbed another book off the shelf. In hindsight, Spot books are a bit long for toddlers whose attention spans the time it takes to say the word “truck,” but if there is ever a next time, I guess I’ll know for it. In the end we all survived, and none of us cried, not even me. Wonders will never cease.
Story time is one thing, but kid-related tasks are another ball game entirely at the library. Librarian school did not prepare me for slippery dip duty. Usually volunteers are given the job, but for unknown (although completely fathomable) reasons, they’ve been absent for several weeks in a row now. I’ve learnt to exercise what can only be called the patience and restraint of a saint, while supervising children who are noisy and disobedient. Not all of them are so bad, I should probably hasten to add, and I tell them they’re my favourites. I don’t know if there’s some rule about having favourite children in a library setting. If there is, I’ll circumvent it by saying I only have my least favourites.
Other than reminding myself that I’m there to do a job and am paid for my troubles, I keep my cool by telling myself it’s a very important job I’m doing. And I really do believe this part. If what I’m doing contributes, in one way or another, to introducing kids to books they’ll love, I’ve potentially seriously improved their lives. If it weren’t for these introductions when I was a wee lass, who knows what line of work I’d be in today? Possibly I’d be using my media & communications degree for something. But I did that for a while, and I think I probably had to in order to learn that actually I just really like books and am happier to make a career in bookshops and libraries than in an office. And possibly in the last week I’ve been reading to, and supervising the safe sliding of, the next generation of booksellers and librarians. Maybe they won’t remember a single word I’ve said, but maybe I’m helping foster a lifelong love of books and reading that will become one of the greatest joys of these little bairns’ lives.
I think I managed to impart at least some of the gravity of what it means to have a library card when I signed a little girl up the other day. I showed her and her progenitor how to use the self-checkout machines. She was visibly and audibly amazed at how it all appeared to work. When she asked, “how did you do that?” I told her it was with my magic librarian powers, that I’m actually a librician. The kid wasn’t falling for it, but as she left and her father told her to say thank you, she said, “thank you, librician.” I kinda hope that kid comes back and learns to love reading at least half as much as I do.
It’s a balancing act, for sure. It’s hard to remember these goals when a kid is wiping their snotty hands on me, jumping up and down while screaming “I’M A BUNNY RABBIT!” (I asked if she could be a quiet bunny rabbit and please save her hopping for later. She kept jumping and hit her head on the slide. I think I deserve a medal for keeping my laughter on the inside.) At these times, my goal is simply to make it out alive. In the words of J. K. Rowling, “Achievable goals: the first step to self-improvement.”
And that, my friends, is why they pay me the big bucks.