Confessions of a Part-Time Librarian – Heather Sears

view through a window of the Lee County Public Library, photo by Heather Sears

Working with the public isn’t always rewarding. You deal with a lot of negative emotions, specifically anger, frustration, and confusion. The collective, known as “The Public,” come in and out as they please and tend to expect every minute of your day to revolve around them as did the door they just walked through. It doesn’t stop there, either. The very ground the building stands on is welcome to all sorts of folks and creatures, none of whom can be chased away with a broom. Chaos is more normal than peace.

In a library, nothing is safe. Each person that walks through the door has their own idea of what the books within should focus on. The constant hum of requests envelops the mind.

More romance novels
A better selection of DVDs
Why don’t you have—insert name of movie that has only been out in theaters for a week—yet?
Can you get—insert ANYTHING-?

inside the Lee County Public Library, photo by Heather Sears

We see the little old lady, the same one who’s frequented our shelves for years, pull book after book off the shelf with nothing but a contemplative glance at their covers. You’d expect her to carry a stack of the Amish romances or perhaps a bunch of cookbooks. What you don’t expect is the slew of murder mysteries she quietly sets on the countertop of the circulation desk she can barely see over. Or the quietest child in the classroom suddenly becomes a torpedo of boundless energy zipping around the children’s section and yanking books, DVDs, and audios off the shelf as they go. Chaos reigns free in the library, side by side with imagination and the telltale scent of paperbound adventures.

Heather Sears, part-time librarian, photo by Heather Sears

The more you do, the more there is to be done. Sometimes, the dreaded happens: the internet fails or the computers glitch. If this ever happens, abort all missions. Call the World Powers. Pray to whatever deity you hearken to.  The world has ended, and it is up to you to set it straight again. Then, eventually, the cloud which passed overhead and blocked out the sun, floats on by and the internet is back and all is right with the world. Catastrophe averted. All is at peace, and chaos is restored.

Working with the public isn’t always rewarding.

I live in a tiny sniff of a town in Eastern Kentucky. We have two stoplights, two grocery stores, and the rest of the buildings have been, are, or will be filled with churches. Your neighbors were likely your neighbors ten years ago. Hardly anything changes and less still is up-to-date. The local library is one of the few gathering places people can depend on. We were previously located in an annex of the town’s courthouse. If the town itself is a sniff, then our library was a mere dust mote. Although we were centrally located in the heart of town, there was barely enough room to breathe between the shelves which lined the walls and stood proudly on the threadbare carpet of the dimly lit room.

inside the Lee County Public Library, photo by Heather Sears

We were proud of our tiny library, even with all its leaks, creaks, and cracks. A crack running across the main supporting wall of our building is what put the boosters on a long-standing project of one of our former employees. Finally, after many years of hard work, penny-pinching, and writing grants, we got our new building. From June of 2016 to January 2017, the library director, employees, and employee-adjacents were asked a singular question whenever in public: “When will the library be open?”

Lee County Public Library doors, photo by Heather Sears

It took us seven months and one day to answer that question. Our opening day wasn’t like the movies. There was no crowd at the door waiting for us when we unlocked our doors. No long line of people wrapping around the building and down seventeen blocks. Balloons and confetti could be found only in the stores, and the fanfare happened only in our heads.

Instead, the parking lot remained empty until around 11:00 a.m. as was tradition with the old building. The first few cars parked in the newly marked spots, and their operators walked through the front doors and into the foyer. The eyes of the astounded patrons were everywhere, their mouths dropped open, and all we heard as they pushed open the last set of doors was a whispered “wow.” Exclamations of how wonderful it looked and how much we needed a new building replaced the grumbles of frustration at not finding what they wanted. Suddenly, looking for something on their own became more of an adventure, and the patrons roamed the stacks, looking over the shelves proudly.

children’s area inside Lee County Public Library, photo by Heather Sears

The first day of Story Hour was the most entertaining. The moment the children came through the doors, the library came to life. The foyer sounded with their squeals of excitement at seeing the mushroom stools, and the bouncy chairs. They shot through the books, giggling and playing short games of hide-and-seek before being corralled by smiling guardians.

Working with the public isn’t always rewarding. Sometimes, when the stars align just right, or when the sky is clear and the birds are singing, something happens. All of the angry and demanding patrons are worth it the moment you see the proud gleam in a child’s eyes when you hand them their very own library card: their Key to the Kingdom. It’s then that everything we do becomes worth it.

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