It was quite difficult to settle on my November bullet journal theme.
There was so much uncertainty, pain, even nastiness each time I tried to watch the news that it became difficult to sit through it. I questioned humanity, or the lack of it. I wondered for the umpteenth time why it was so problematic to accept wearing a mask – if those working at the ice cream shop have always worn masks because it was hygienic to do so, why couldn’t we when there was a pandemic?
Anyway, I digress. This post is about my trusty bullet journal and the theme I settled on.
It is my tribute to Louisa May Alcott, writer of the series that made me wish I had sisters, a Marmee and time for make believe dressups, writing, messy relationships and all the ingredients for a memorable growing up period. Alcott was born in November.
But, with today’s backdrop in mind, I wonder what the reactions might be to a title like LittleWomen.
Last November, I was in the Young Adult Fiction section of my local bookstore, wondering whether or not to purchase a set of Keeper of Lost Cities books by Shannon Messenger for the library.
You should get them all,” said this voice behind me.
The speaker was a teenaged boy. Bespectacled, way taller than I was, and holding a stack of books in his arms.
They’re really good,” he continued. “I’ve read the lot and I’m just bummed number eight’s still not out yet.”
He must have thought I was an idiot because I literally stared at him, mute, for several seconds before remembering my manners and thanking him for the recommendation. And that yes, I would buy the set.
His mother joined us as he was describing the stories in Book Three and promptly apologised for him annoying me.
I assured her he was doing nothing of the sort, and that I was learning a lot from him. We chatted a bit more about the other books he had with him, then parted ways.
I could not have imagined that my book buying jaunt would result in the privilege of meeting this young man and his mother, and learning so much about seeing books through the eyes of an actual teenaged reader of books, the group I’d feared misplaced in modern techo-civilisation. Indeed, he had been a joy to chat with. He was articulate, knowledgeable, well mannered, and a credit to his mother.
I highly doubt he or his mother will read this but if they do, thank you. The young man’s unexpected act of kindness in taking the time to share his enthusiasm for some books restored my faith in young readers and, more importantly, in the future.
I’ve been helping out at the library once or twice a week with shelving, mending, and with setting up book displays. My full-time colleagues handle the queries and all the other administrative tasks. I enjoy my time there immensely because it is quiet (usually) and I get first (or second) dibs on new books and magazines.
After these several months, I’ve come to realise something rather sad: technology has relegated librarians to sorting, mending, shelving and hunting for misplaced items. As one of my colleagues puts it – “Nobody sees us till they don’t see the books.”
The typical users in my library look for their books on computers. They can check if the books are available, and an automatic layout pops up with the locations. They borrow their books by scanning their Library IDs and then the books, and out comes a little date-due slip. The same computers tell them where to locate reference books and resources meant for in-library reading. If there is a fine to be paid, it is deducted from a cashcard. Librarians not required.
My colleagues find themselves excelling these days in two major areas: on search and rescue missions when the computer says a book is right there but nobody knows where it really is, and by listening when visitors come in more for a chat than a book. Because, yes, we do have visitors who stop by mid-morning and stay past teatime as the library represents their only human contact for the day.
As the march of technology continues with ebooks and elibraries, and as funds are diverted to apparently more useful purposes than maintaining a building for reading, the community library and its librarians may be endangered. I find that sad.
Now, I realise not all libraries are the same, nor are their visitors. My experiences may simply be the result of my particular community. But I suspect there might be some similarities wherever you are.
So what has this rambling piece got to do with kindness?
I want to say “thank you” to the three teenagers who asked if we needed help with putting up posters. To the lady who asked if we wanted coffee on her way to get some. To the two little girls who said, “thank you, and see you in two weeks!” as they left. To the visitors who wave, smile and plain old recognise there is a human being sitting behind the counter.
And to you, the librarian: thank you for doing what you do in promoting reading, in caring for reading material, in maintaining a safe environment for reading whether it is in a school or community hall, for being the forgotten guardian of what we want to know.
Don’t get me wrong – I realise they are critical. Where else could we go if something’s gone wrong and we need to consult somebody?
But, really, do I have to tap this many numbers to establish my identity, my language preference, the type of service I require … after listening to lists of options where I’ve forgotten what Option 2 was because I’m trying to decide if Option 7 is more appropriate?
Then I hold, and listen to scratchy 80s music on a never-ending loop, interrupted by recorded messages announcing how the customer service officers are all busily engaged but I will be attended to shortly. I’m lucky if I get to speak to an actual person within 22 minutes, despite my call being of utmost importance.
So I dreaded this call to my library. You see, my phone died on me. Despite valiant resuscitation efforts, it became clear I needed a new phone. Fortunately, I’d backed up the old phone fairly recently so I was able to transfer data back from the computer, except for the ebooks I’d borrowed via the OverDrive app. Those books completely disappeared.
I reinstalled the app, logged back in, registered myself all over again … nothing. Now, I wouldn’t have minded if I’d lost my own ebooks. But these were library ebooks – would I now be liable for eternal e-fines because they would be forever overdue?
Life, as I’ve learnt, always has surprises.
A lady answered after five rings (yes, I counted). She was polite, cheerful and supremely apologetic that she was unable to help because she wasn’t familiar with OverDrive. If I would please hold, she’d transfer me to someone who could help.
Lionel Ritchie barely sang three bars before another lady answered. She patiently walked me through what I’d done, making encouraging noises along the way. Then she explained where I’d erred. I won’t bore anybody with the details but I understood her explanations, followed her subsequent instructions and – behold! – the ebooks were back in my new phone.
But she wasn’t done. She suggested I logged out and repeated the steps so I’d remember what to do “next time, just in case”. That done, she asked that I borrowed another book, just to check that the app was working fine. It was. She wished me well and said to call back if I had further problems.
It was the most pleasant conversation I’ve ever had with anyone from customer services. Cynics might interpret this as, ‘well, it’s a library, not the ABC Store with 250 call-ins a day’ but I don’t think it changes how pleasant and helpful the ladies were. The second lady, in particular, was unbelievably kind enough to go the extra mile: she could have hung up after my books were downloaded.
I came across this Reading Corner at the airport, of all places.
Intrigued, I wanted to inspect the titles and savour this joyful moment of discovering such a corner in an airport. First, however, I wanted to take a photo to prove I wasn’t hallucinating.
But as I lifted my camera, a little poppet galloped towards the shelves, shrieking, “Book! Book!”
I paused. A Reading Corner in a public space with books and a poppet excited by books?
Life had more surprises for me. The father grabbed the poppet. “Meimei, wait. Let the auntie take her photo first.”
It really was too much. I snapped the photo, thanked the father, waved at the poppet and retreated.
Inspecting book titles can wait. Celebrating this little vignette cannot. I am warmed by a father’s kind understanding and gracious patience, and a tiny child’s enthusiasm for books. And by the use of potential retail space for encouraging reading.
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