Twenty Years a Librarian

I got a nice note today, from Lisa Portale, whom I worked in the library with, ages and ages ago.

It was my first *library*.

It was also *my* first library.

But let me go back.

I’d been to other libraries before, of course, starting with the reading nook at Pistol River School, which barely qualified as a library. It was lined ceiling to floor, on all three walls, with books fit for children, whatever that meant. There was a small selection of nonfiction, a couple runs of encyclopedias, and books by Clyde Robert Bulla, who had a big effect on me, and Comic Book Classics. I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island, Dracula, and Red Badge of Courage that way. I think the comic book classics were a good entry point into reading “grown-up” stuff because the plot captured my attention enough that I’d actually go ahead and pick up the unabridged, non-illustrated book later, and try to make my way through it.

Eventually, at the end of sixth grade, all the elementary schools (Agness, Ophir, and Pistol River) moved their students as a cohort into Riley Creek School. It was a junior high. I don’t know about the kids from Agness and Ophir, but being from Pistol River, I felt like a fish flopping out of water. I also felt like that when I took up wrestling, but that’s another story entirely.

Mr. Egdahl was the librarian in charge of Riley Creek’s collection. He was a well-proportioned balding man whose head would go beet red when he got angry, which was often. He managed the kids who wrote for the school newspaper, and coached the cross country team. A person in charge of books? Who knew there was such a thing? He was also in charge of the random electronic equipment needed to support the school curriculum–film projectors, slide reels, record players and the like.

But there were LOTS of books. A reading room where Hot Rod magazine was, more often than not, found lying on the a low blonde table amidst overstuffed vinyl chairs.

I checked out a book there, about the Cherokee language. I took it on a trip to Ashland, and accidentally dropped it in the mud. Rather than *tell* Mr. Egdahl, I just slipped it back in the book drop, and hoping the problem would disappear with the book itself.

He was angry, of course, and called me in. I realized he wasn’t angry because I destroyed the book, so much as I hadn’t told him. If I’d acted more immediately, he said, they might have done something to save the book. But I hadn’t.

I’d never thought of that before. I’d denied hundreds of other kids the chance to read the same book I’d dropped in the mud. Not that they would have. I was a strange kid.

Eventually, I went to Gold Beach High School, where I encountered an even bigger library. Mrs. Renner a plump lady with a kind smile and curly brown hair. She employed students to help with library tasks. I never got one of those jobs. I was either not brave enough, or not smart enough to land one of those jobs, although I was very interested in books by then.

We shared a common love of sci-fi and fantasy genre fiction. She would point new titles and new to me. I read loads of Philip Jose Farmer, Piers Anthony. Of course, I found the collected works of e.e. cummings there. And I encountered Studs Terkel for the first time, and his book *Hard Times*. Snicker. His name was Studs, and his book had the word “hard.”

What? I was fifteen…

The high school I attended in France didn’t exactly have a library. They had a resource room.  It had scattered tomes, and thin amounts of literature there. I managed to find “I Sing the Body Electric” and “The Martian Chronicles” there, by Ray Bradbury. I read them in French.

Then–Bethany Bible College. The library was an old shell of a thing. It was a post-WW2 army surplus building that was hauled from Fort Something-or-Other in the early 1950s, and plopped down in the middle of the redwood trees. Every freshman was required to take the Library Module. This supposedly trained students to find books and information amongst the stacks of books. Really, it was kind of a waste of time.

Arnold was a shortish, owlish man with a shock of wiry white hair. His colleague Ed was the college’s Reference Librarian. He was a nervous guy who desired nothing more than to help students find information for whichever project they were worked on. He had a way of digging into the cavern of any research problem, and finding exactly the gem of information you needed for your project. He would often return to your table with a book laid open, a finger marking the passage you were searching for.

A few years later, when I started working there, I was in charge of making sure we had an accurate list of students who had finished the Module. I was also put to the task of revising the module later on. Then I began library school. Then Arnold retired. I came back and took over the library.

I managed the staff, and bargained away my soul to get a book budget every year. Some years it worked, and we ordered books by the truckload. Some years it didn’t work so well, and we went lean.

Despite roughly 1/3 of the 60,000 books being about Christianity in one way or another, I loved that collection. I learned the Library of Congress system, backward and forward. I could tell you exactly where certain books were on the shelves, and which titles were valuable. I could generally tell you which ones were crap as well.
I cataloged many of them, or manually converted old library cards into computer-generated records. We had a card-tossing party, when we finished up a massive conversion effort. We combined 6 card catalogs into one by throwing all the extraneous cards.

But most of all, I made friends. The library had six-to-twelve student workers, and 3 library assistants to do administrative and clerical work. Doshia White, Susan Cheston Isham, Lisa Portale, Wayne Bellville, that hippie Deanne Ortiz McClendon, Lisa Fortes-Schramm . My wife and I were both employed by Arnold.

It’s all done now. I have a different career. But I still value the years, and the learning, and most of all, the people, I met while I served for 20 years.


3 thoughts on “Twenty Years a Librarian”

  1. I think I worked for you there for a year to a year and a half, but Arnold is the one that hired me. I remember the “test” we had to take before we were hired that was all random knowledge. I got a 40-something percent on it, and I was so upset, until Arnold told me most students scored in the 18-20% range. He made me feel better about my “failure” and gave me a job, and I eventually became a reference assistant. I still think back on that job fondly. The only part I didn’t like were the days I was on backup duty and had to dust shelves. Some gnarly, ferocious spiders lurking behind some of those not-oft-used parts of the collection.


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