Tuesday, January 21, 2014

After holding its breath, the library opens

At a large and busy library like my own, there are occasionally great surges. Some of these surges are on the check out side. The summer reading program brings in large amounts of people on its momentous Saturday, and a forecasted weather event that is supposed to cripple the city sends a mighty throng in, desperate to swaddle themselves in dvds and reading material against the imminent disaster. On the return side of things the great surges are dominated by the effects of the rare days we are closed. My library closes for a whole day, like it did yesterday, only 10 or 15 times a year, and a closed day is like a bubble, pushing everything to the far side of it. The day after a closed day, like today, we get, roughly, twice as much stuff back than is usual for a day. Two days worth of check outs share one due date and one work day. Also, because it is the first day after the weekend we get three days worth of deliveries because we do not get deliveries on weekends.

It is a lot of stuff!

And while I have no great love for this vast intake of items, it always fascinates me. It sort of makes visible our great circulation digestive system. Normally stuff comes in and moves through, sometimes carts are full of books, or bins or boxes, but it is pretty well distributed. Put under the great stress, though, of an epic return day, all the elements of our system become visible in high relief, and I enjoy watching the great glut of material work its way through to the shelves. What it always reminds me of is a picture in The Little Prince. I will reproduce some vague version of it from memory:

If I recall the little prince asks people what this is a picture of. Of course, it is a picture of an elephant in a snake:

This is how I picture all our materials running through the system, as a big bulge. First there are bins and boxes and carts and piles all waiting to be fed into the machine. Then all the materials start to work into all our loader bins until we are out of empties and every bin is all swollen and full up and we are desperate. Then those bins start to get emptied into cart after cart until there is a sea of carts of books and everyone needs empty carts but no one can find them! Then they start to go out to the shelves, book by book, until the shelves are packed tight and we cannot find room for them. 

It all takes days and days, sometimes a whole week if we keep on being busy. And just like with a snake digesting an elephant you can see the whole huge swell of it moving through the back area of the library. But, of course, is is not an elephant in there. So I picture it like this:

If you were hoping I had something illuminating and profound to say about all this I am afraid I must disappoint you. It is not all epiphanies and fireworks here at the library. A lot of the time it's just, uh, a snake, er, digesting books. Well, I have pictured it that way for years. And I thought it was time to show you.


  1. "The Little Prince" in clearkmanifesto now my day is blessed.

    1. Mine too, as it is now practically like the little prince himself commented on my blog!


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