There is no shortage of cynicisms here at the library I work at. My co-workers complain about the patrons regularly, and we're pretty free with the complaints about each other too. We have petty thefts here, bizarre personalities, and unpleasant encounters with bodily fluids. From the moment I started working here it has come up, in idle staff conversation, about how they should make a sitcom about this place, a zany library sitcom where crazy things happen to the crazy staff and their crazy patrons. While I imagine many a worker fancies their workplace would be rich fodder for a sitcom, I don't object to them or to any of my co-workers' sitcom contentions over the years. A sitcom is fine. But despite all my own personal crankiness, my disaffectedness, and all my jaded complaints, despite even my own penchant for screwball comedy, I don't, at heart, see my workplace, the library, in the guise of a sitcom. Nope.
Before I tell you what TV show my library is like, before I set up particular expectations or make you feel like surely I'm stretching the point, let me just tell you what it's like here at the library. Not what it's like all the time, or everyday, but enough, and deep down in its heart, if you let it in.
Tonight, for instance. I'm out at the front desk working with a perfectly pleasant and competent co-worker. Here come two paramedics. They're just here getting some movies, but they're our special guests and so we happily talk about life as a paramedic for a bit. It's interesting. Another patron comes to the desk. This one has music to take home that he is very excited about. He calls me by my name. We are very friendly with each other in a formal way. People talk about how cold it is outside, in simple terms, but with humor, and agreement. Sometime crabby people come, but they're funny. Differently abled people visit. Sometimes they're nice, sometimes they're troubled, but they're interesting for being different. There's Black people and White people and Asian people, Native Americans, Italians, Indians, Hmong, African, Central American, and on and on. It's a real picture of the world. Some people are just learning English and it is harder to communicate with them, so we use signs with each other and talk slower and are relieved when we understand one another. We smile. The people who think it's all a sitcom will tell you that a lot of the people are very rude, but I don't believe it. On the contrary I am amazed at how polite everyone can be. They wait in line patiently. They are not loud. They say please and thank you. They laugh at my jokes. I laugh at theirs. They say "Can I get a library card?" and "Do you have this book?" and "Can I pay my fine?" and "Can you help me with the computer?" and "Can you answer a question?"
And the answer is "Yes." "Yes" is the answer.
It's a big library, like an outside space, but inside and safe. It's like a wonderful stage set, a playground, a store where everything is free. Even with all the people coming through such a big place I know probably a third of them at least a tiny bit. Everyone is kind of friendly and everyone's time feels like it's free time. We talk about how we are, happy goings on, trips to foreign places, books and movies and music we like. No one pretends it's perfect. There are problems. We discuss them civilly. People get sad. People are troubled, but it's warm in here, and almost everyone comes here simply because they want to be here.
Yes, Sesame Street.