Confessions of a High School Librarian–Part 2

Library

Peter Parker in the Library

Peter Parker entered and signed in dutifully at the front desk. Mrs. Mars, Inches away, faced her computer screen, seemingly preoccupied. Then Peter Parker went and sat at one of the little round tables along the wall directly across from the circulation desk, where Mrs. Mars sat. He was reading a book, sitting in profile, so that Mrs. Mars could see him. This was not the first time Peter Parker had come into the library on his free period, and, after finding a piece of preferred reading material, had sat down at that very table, in that very same position, in Mrs. Mars’s full view. Other students often visited on their free—or ostensibly free—periods, and located themselves so as to be strategically shielded from Mrs. Mars’s sometimes penetrating gaze. They sat behind a pillar, or hidden from view by a stanchion announcing class reservation times, or behind the “Return Books Here” sign. Or way in the back of the cavernous facility, behind the Fiction shelves.

But not Peter Parker. He seemed to find security, perhaps, or some form of satisfaction, in visual proximity to the librarian—as if the radius of her field of view conferred upon him magical protection: a force-field of sanctuary and sanity, perhaps. Or was it something else?

He had come in that morning with a class, and here he was again, on his own. He had impressed Mrs. Mars as one of the rare students who actually acknowledged her presence as he walked in, his pale, scholarly face set off by earnest deep brown eyes, looking out from behind round-framed eyeglasses. He really did look like Peter Parker, she had thought when she first really noticed him, at which point she had given him this surreptitious pseudonym. He had the close-fitting brown, medium-length hair, medium-to-slight build, and conservative clothing to go along with the image of Spiderman’s alter ego. He was also intent on being polite and agreeable with her. This is why he stood out to Mrs. Mars. She appreciated his refined manners, and she responded to his greeting with one of her own.

Today, though, was notable. It almost seemed that Peter Parker was asking for some kind of interaction. He was smooth enough in his behavior that he did not appear nervous in his chosen spotlight, as he sat at the little round table, fully within Mrs. Mars’s gaze. He didn’t look up, or over at her. For her own part, she kept busy with her computer work.

Then, Peter Parker stood up and approached the circulation desk. He looked directly at Mrs. Mars and asked if he could borrow a pencil. She found a new, sharpened pencil in a drawer, and handed it to him politely, but a bit distractedly, and without looking at his face. She could tell, however, that he was looking at hers as he took the pencil and thanked her.

Some girls joined Peter Parker at his table. They were nice-looking white girls. They appeared to be working on a common project or some schoolwork. Mrs. Mars gave no hint of interest in their activities. Eventually, the bell sounded for the end of the period, and the students scattered about the library made their way to the door to proceed to their next class. Peter Parker and his classmates were getting up from the table. Most of the time, students who “borrowed” pencils from Mrs. Mars didn’t return them. Mrs. Mars was understanding about this, as she had plenty of pencils and considered it a small act of charity to provide them to students who needed them. Then Peter Parker walked up to the circulation desk, held out the pencil thoughtfully, looking Mrs. Mars in the eyes and saying, “Thank you,” as he smiled very pleasantly. “You’re very welcome,” Mrs. Mars replied, also pleasantly, and with a legitimate smile, for she was genuinely pleased at Peter Parker’s considerate behavior. As Peter Parker walked out the door with his table-mates, Mrs. Mars looked down at the object in her hand. The point was still sharp, the pencil none the worse for wear.

Returning to her solitude in the empty library, Mrs. Mars took her eyes off of the computer screen. She reflected on the nice young man who had been so polite and gracious with her. “I wonder,” she thought, “if that sweet young man was trying to get my attention, or if he just wanted to be acknowledged for his good-naturedness and his upholding of mature social standards.” It was almost, she thought, as though he were trying to make a very personal impression on Mrs. Mars. She smiled, and permitted herself a small, sensual sigh.

© 2016 Anne Campagnet-Reed

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Confessions of a School Librarian – Part I

The Artist's Sister at her Window

“Sometimes it seems that kids don’t really understand what books are anymore, and they sure as heck don’t know how to find them,” Agatha reflected.

“I see a lot of bewildered students coming into the library and not getting their work done. They don’t look bewildered. They look like they’re playing computer games, or talking loudly with their friends, taking outrageous selfies with dramatic expressions, laughing too loudly and doing things deliberately to get my attention. Like going out the back doors that they aren’t supposed to exit through. Like eating chips or drinking frapuchinos near the computers. Like trying to do cheerleader formations, or play-fighting in the library. I approach them and remind them to tone it down so others can study. One or two of them like to back-talk and tell me that they aren’t bothering anyone, asking the nearest student who is working on a computer, ‘Hey, are we bothering you?’ to which, of course, the student replies no, but then packs up her stuff and leaves.

“How do I know they’re bewildered? First, because life is just bewildering for a lot of kids in high school. The cooler they try to look with their friends, the more pain and fear of looking dumb they are trying to conceal.

“Second, I know that even a lot of the “smart” ones are bewildered, because they really don’t understand libraries or how to use one. I guess no one has ever taken the time to show them how to use a library catalog. Of the three students brave enough to ask how to find a certain book this week, none of them knew how to use the catalog. I had even made a sign which I put right beside the two catalog computers, with very clear directions.

“But I was glad that they asked, because it gave me something to do. I walked them over to the computer, showed them how to get to the school library system’s global website, how to locate the school, and then how to click on the “Catalog” tab. Then I showed them how to type in an item and search, using the category icon (Author, Title, Key Words, etc.) Could they have gotten there by reading the sign? Of course. But did they read it? No. But they really seemed happy that they were able to find what they were looking for. They felt a sense of accomplishment.

“And you know what?” Agatha mused to herself, ” I get it. Computer databases in libraries always used to seem complex and forbidding to me. I always felt dumb when I asked someone to do a search for me (In those days, you couldn’t do your own searches–only librarians could do them.) I never knew what search words to use, and the whole process seemed mysterious and out of my reach.  But I would have thought that this generation, with their YouTube, their Tumblr, their PlayStation, their Xbox, their Nintendo, InstaGram and SnapChats, would totally get how to access databases. But they don’t. I think they don’t for two main reasons: 1) databases are dry and boring, compared to all of the  instant gratification they get from their other computer media; and 2) no one has sat down and shown them how to do research with databases, or convinced them that they should bother. So that’s my job.”

Agatha smiled as she settled down in front of her computer, smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt, as she prepared to blog about her new job as a school librarian.