Profound discoveries happen behind the wheel of a car and when my mouth is foaming with paste meant for sensitive older teeth.
“I may have a problem.” A meek morning confession began at our common sink.
“A problem?” My husband spit.
“Okay, I may have a problem to add to my list.”
“This one?” His gargled monotone was mildly irritating, but he’s had me around nearly forty years.
“I may have an unnatural infatuation with libraries.”
One more spit, a grunt, and he left for work.
I often wondered if there was such a thing as a library craving and if that could ever go too far. There might even be a label for the affliction. Perhaps I harbored latent longings to be a librarian. I didn’t think so, although I had been asked at Border’s several times, “Can you tell me where the biographies are?” Of course I could and accepted the question as a compliment. My husband said it had something to do with the way I dressed.
Teaching undergraduates on several campuses for thirty-one years may have pushed my affection for libraries to the level of problem. What tipped me off?
The final, final exam was proctored early today. Grading began soon after the first was dropped on my desk. Most of the past two days had been spent grading other exams. The rubric was fresh in my mind. An assortment of colored pens ready, I dug in.
Seven hours and twenty minutes later scores were recorded, grades computed on a spreadsheet. Semester over. I was done.
I clicked grades off to the Registrar’s office and inhaled the freshest air in four months. Freedom. Weeks and weeks of blank pages on my calendar. And I had a plan: get to the library and stockpile books. After all, I did have one faculty perk: NO DUE DATES.
Lips lifted to a satisfied smile. I ambled past the faculty room. A couple of colleagues leaned on file cabinets sucking down leftover donuts from their morning exam snackfests. I had forgotten to stop and pick up a positive student evaluation bribe—again. My mind was focused on the book wish list I penned before sunrise.
Every corner of the library was occupied. The final crunch of the last munch of information was being shoved into young minds. A few students had taken up semi-permanent residency on the corner couches barricaded by Monster drink cans and chips that could last the week. I weaved my way through computer clusters with eyes straight ahead to avoid casting unmerited looks of sympathy. Some coeds were no doubt visiting for the first time since the early February thaw.
My feet echoed up the familiar flight of steps to the door labeled ‘Quiet Floor’ where one could sleep undisturbed. I paced my quest and pulled the wish list from my worn tote, now light and roomy. Amazing how much weight dozens of ungraded words organized into essays added to paper, to my life.
Rather than wander from row to row of shelves craning my herniated disc from top to bottom I searched by call sign. Thankfully this library harbored kinship ties to the Dewey Decimal system.
Thirty minutes later cradling volumes, I checked out. The work study student at the desk appeared somber and monochromatic; a contrast from the usual eclectic combo of plaids and stripes complementing her forearm tats. She balanced an opened textbook painted with a rainbow of highlighters on her lap while she scanned the bar codes.
The walk to my car was invigorating. I noticed the campus fountain sending its recycled jets up, and around, and down. I wondered when the petunias had been planted. Each blade of grass was manicured. The smell of fresh mulch piled at the base of every tree signaled parents would arrive soon for commencement.
Unloaded stash in the back seat of the car, I sighed and reflected once more on my love of all things library.
The first I discovered in my father’s den. Two long rows of faded hard covered volumes and magazines collected chalk dust from the tray above. National Geographic issues were offered freely.
My first buzz on books happened in the elementary school library. In fourth grade, I read the SRA (Science Research Associates) cards for the year in three weeks and spent most of the winter and spring sprawled on over-sized pillows in the reading corner.
In junior high, I begged Mom to let me go with my older brothers to the huge public library across town. The communal back-to-back oak card catalog chests anchored the building. I tiptoed to slide each drawer open and flipped the cards gorging on the possibilities. I was a couple inches taller in high school and visited there so often I barely had to show my faded orange paper library card.
I attended a university that had more libraries than I had socks. Ceilings were high and each had its own smell. I felt smarter just sitting there.
A couple decades ago I had a job interview. Anxious about taking another teaching position in another new state I crossed the campus, walked through the library lobby, and felt I belonged there. Still do.
Summer was officially on. I piled the books in my home office and checked for emails before cutting vegetables for supper. A stream of four came from one address, the local library. Hairs bristled on the back of my neck. Each message stated that the book, okay the books I had placed on hold, were ready for pickup.
If I left right away I could get there and back before my husband got home. He would never know. I grabbed an empty tote and was off.
Maybe I do have a problem.