Thursday, October 15, 2015

Naturalist of the library

There is a book I have loved called The Tracker. It is a true story, sort of, but then aren't they all, of a boy growing up in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and his journey of learning how to read nature and to survive in any wild situation on his skills alone. There is big fat red quote by the author, Tom Brown, on the back cover:

"When someone moves something in your house, you notice it. When somebody moves something in the woods, I notice it."

Though I loved the book this emblematic quote never fully resonated with me because the "you" didn't manage to apply to me. I am not terribly alert to people moving things in my house. I'm pretty sure sometimes things in my house move of their own accord. And when they do I'm not all that clear on what happened.

So the quote just sat there, waiting for its personal revelation. A year, five years, ten, twenty, and then suddenly one night I was at the library, working again, tracing down some infinitesimal sin of one of my co-workers: a misplaced scissors, a wrong date, an abandoned cart, and finally, after these many years, that lightning bolt struck.

I am a naturalist, a survivor, a tracker of the library workroom.

This is where I have eeked out my living, attuned to every detail. I know the footprints of my co-workers, the meaning of every item left lying around, the tell tale signs of the computer screens and their open tabs. I know whose initials have been casually withheld from that unhelpful note. I know who's doing their job well enough, and I know every tiny corner someone cut in their workload and left in a box for the next person to deal with.

The staff at my library is undergoing a notable downgrading. Good solid people are leaving, or have been, and many of the new hires have serious problems and deficiencies. So the woods of the backroom of the library are a small chaos for those who can read the signs. It's like there was a snowfall and now endless tracks are everywhere. I can read a thousand stories a day at the library, none of them in books, following the tracks to some laziness, some cleverness, or some small, bloody disaster splattered into the snow. They are all stories of a days work. 

There are not many of us left who can read this environment in such detail. If you look around you can probably spot us if you look for those of us muttering bitterly under our breath. We have been there for years now, ever students even as we become masters. We are tracking every tiny movement and disturbance, knowing that only our furious knowledge, after all these years, can keep us alive.

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