Thursday, February 08, 2007

Library Hills 97233

This past Saturday I arrived at the library a few minutes before it opened to find an assemblage of about 50 fellow nerds already flanking the building. I joined my brethren, our pasty white skin and pocket protectors glowing like a beacon in the winter sun as we waited for the doors to be unlocked. Once they were opened, we, the people, streamed through the doors like black Friday shoppers at a Walmart for smarties.

While some of the nerds immediately rushed in to grab computer terminals, others moved toward the middle of the room to stake out tables. I headed for the hold shelf where I hoped to yoink my copy of Liquor before the librarian got around to reshelving it. In addition to being a nerd, I am a procrastinator of mammoth proportions who waits until the day after the deadline to pick up her books. In the end, however, victory and Poppy Z. Brite were mine.

Novel in hand, I went about my usual routine of browsing the shelves just in case anything interesting might be stowed away there. Considering the volume of holdings of the Multnomah County Library system, it is always possible. This methodology is about half responsible for the 20+ items I currently have checked out. In my zest to know, hear, see, I often have to remind myself that I don't actually have to have all the books in my possession at any given time. It is okay to leave some for the others. It's tough sometimes, though, when a book loving only child finds herself faced with shelf upon shelf of free material just waiting to be consumed.

Apparently I am not alone in my zeal. As I was browsing through the mysteries, a shelf ahead of a mother and young daughter, I heard the repeated sound of little girl hands sliding books from the shelves as she asked, "Can we get this one? What about this one?" Every time the mother would patiently tell her "No, honey, not this one. See, Mommy has a list. We're only getting the books on the list. You understand?"

The little girl would pause before thoughtfully responding "Yes, Mommy". Then, a moment later, I would again hear "What about this one?" Given the state of my book laden arms, it was impossible not to smile to myself and think, "That is a child after my own heart."

The truth is that watching the excitement with which people approach the library makes me smile. What lovely feeling to be surrounded by books and people who love them. When I think of that little girl, I'm happy for the lifetime of reading that she has ahead of her. My neighborhood is just a simple, working class neighborhood filled with people trying to eke out a happy life. Somehow knowing that they're reading as they're ekeing makes me feel closer to them.

Back when I first moved back to Portland a few years ago, I went to a party with a friend. In the course of the dreaded mingling portion of the festivities (I'm not only procrastinating nerd, but a shy nerd), I was drawn into conversation with a guy who asked me what area I lived in. When I answered, he said "Oh, sweetheart, you have got to move!" When I asked why, he said "Well, come on. Living there? What are people going to think?"

At the time, the only answer I could come up with was "Ummm...that I'm not a shallow jerk who judges people based on their zip codes?" (I am not only a procrastinating, shy nerd, but an opinionated nerd.) After Saturday's visit to my neighborhood library (which is, by the way, the largest branch in a library system that has the highest circulation of any public library in the country) I know the real answer is:

"You mean that I like to read?"


Anonymous said...

I came across your blog because I have an alert for "multnomah county library". Your story about the library warms the cockles of this librarian's heart. (?Where are the cockles on a heart, anyway?) I was compelled to read the rest of your posts, and enjoyed them very much. Thanks, from your latest subscriber.

Chris said...

"The largest branch in a library system that has the highest circulation of any public library in the country" is a fascinating fact. It's as mighty a claim as Portland having the highest per capita number of strip clubs in the US, or so you once told me. It makes me curious about the local sociological history, or at least to wonder "why"?

Greetings to the anonymous librarian. I did a quick Google to find the origin of warming the cockles of the heart and the best information I found was at this link. There seems to be general agreement that "cockles" comes from the Latin "cochleae", once used as the name for the ventricles of the heart.

Martina said...

Anonymous Libarian -

Thank you so much for your kind words. They made my day! A new subscriber? Woot! That increases my readership by like 25%. That warms the cockles of MY heart and makes me feel like everything's comin' up Millhouse!


Martina said...

Chris -

I think the strip club thing was from an article I read back when I was living on the prairie. I assume it is Amish propaganda designed to make my city look unsavory. Either that or my city is made up of a lot of really smart perverts.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that it's true that Multnomah County has the highest circulation of *any* library in the country. My friends in New York say that libraries there have that honor. Perhaps Multnomah has the most for libraries its size or county libraries or something like that...

Martina said...

Of course now that I'm trying to locate the article where I found the info, Google (or at least my memory for search phrases) is being thoroughly uncooperative. I wonder if it was per capita or something like that. Meanwhile feel free to consider me the John Hodgman of fake library trivia.