“DOUBLE, DOUBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE”

Here’s your Halloween treat — the tale of three strange women librarians I encountered during my motley career. They’d all be at home around a cauldron.

The first was the Children’s Librarian at the Rockville Centre Public Library. I’d known her since my son attended pre-school storytimes, and when I casually mentioned I was enrolled in Queens College’s graduate library school, she asked: “Would you like to work here?” An offer I couldn’t refuse! I didn’t know I was qualified to work as a librarian trainee as long as I was enrolled in an accredited M.L.S.graduate program.

She disliked many children and parents. Mothers waiting for youngsters in the children’s room got on her nerves, so she banished them to wander in other areas of the library. One small boy who limped annoyed her, and she changed the storytime schedule, knowing when he was in pre-school, so he couldn’t attend.

She sat in her cubicle reading and writing book reviews while I often took care of patrons. As I helped a mother pick books for her son — he’d been hit by a car while riding his bicycle and was in the hospital in a body cast — she wasdarting me churlish looks. So when the woman left I told her about the accident. “Good thing he’s so fat!” she snarled.

After a year and a half of this sourness I resigned, applied, and was hired by the gracious director of the Oceanside library, Soma Finnell, who told me my first mentor had spoken unkindly of me. “Who’d believe anyting she said?” commented the second coven candidate, who became assistant director, and after Soma’s untimely death, replaced her as director.

She, too, was sharp-tongued with a face to match. It was obvious to the staff that Sol, a former policeman, now custodian, was her ally and informant. No one dared cross him — it was whispered that he still carried his gun. Between the two of them the atmosphere was decidedly unpleasant.

I handed in my resignation after an incident involving a painting falling from a high wall, scattering glass shards on patrons seated below. As one of his chores, Sol peridically climbed a ladder and humg the paintings way up in what was called “Gallery Above the Shelves,” grumbling loudly every time.

That fateful day, seeing Sol and the director duck into her office as the picture crashed, I left the reference desk and walked to the scene, asking if anyone had been hurt. No, thankfully. But the next day she lectured me for possibly giving anyone the idea to sue. I’d been managing the art exhibitions, but she would handle them from now on. Some years later I heard she’d been fired for absenteeism and escorted from a Board meeting — and I tasted schaudenfreude. Sweet and sour. Delicious!

While at Oceanside, I completed my degree and was licensed as a New York State Public Librarian and School Media Specialist, and soon was hired as a public librarian in The Sewanhaka High School District. Perfect timing — my son had just started high school. The senior librarian was pleased with my work in my first year, and approved my appointment as a School Media Specialist the second — shorter hours, more money, and a schedule matching my son’s.

But this woman was the strangest of all. She had an extensive collection of books on the dark arts — many more than needed for any study of Salem. Library Club aides told me these had been mysteriously removed just before a teachers’ conference in the library. An English teacher questioned her purchase of “Queen of the Damned,” a vampire novel by Anne Rice — she defended its suitability for grades 6 to 12.

Students weren’t allowed to smile at each other in the library, let alone whisper. One of my tasks was enforcing this proper behavior, bobbing my head up and down to watch as I sat and catalogued in their midst. She had a long list of those banned for such infractions. Several teachers asked me if I could try to persuade their students to enter the sacrosanct premises again.

When I told her of an argument with my husband, she said “You need a girlfriend. Come home with me — we’ll drink some scotch.” Her invitation made me queasy so I answered “I’ve got enough girlfriends. And I don’t like scotch.” Then changed the subject.

When I later saw an incriminating snapshot on her desk I realized she was having a fling with a lovely Indian girl, a member of the Library Club. “She’s 18 years old,” said my boss when she saw my startled look. By the way, she called a large, droopy plant there “Henry,” her husband’s name.

There was much more — enough to make me blow a whistle. Not wise before tenure, I learned.. Of course, she denied mine in my fourth year. The first year as a public librarian didn’t count. She gave a coffee party for staff the day after I left to celebrate my departure, and was observed occasionally talking to herself in the hallways..

She retired soon after, had often said she never would –“Someone will find my body lying in the stacks someday” — of natural causes — possibly murder. A smart, pleasant young librarian transferred from another school in the district to take her place. And I next worked as a reference librarian at the East Meadow Public Library, under the tutelege of the renowned Irving Adelman, Head of Reference. In a safe harbor at last.

As a parting treat, I’m tossing in a poem I wrote, inspired by the foregoing:

Upward Mobility

Did you ever wonder
How someone rose so far
Without apparent talent?

Well, go to the bay
Someday at low tide
And see what floats.

Or go into the woods
Some dark night and
Watch for a witch.

When you see one
Stirring a cauldron
Observe what bubbles up.

Then you’ll understand
It’s not always cream
That rises to the top.

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2 Comments »

  1. Mary Mahon Beeckman said

    …My Library career certainly was less colorful than yours, just the occasional flasher or nutcase. I listen to Prairie Home Companion on PBS and the adventures of Ruth/Reference Librarian. It’s a hoot.

  2. Had occasional flasher or nutcase, too. I did it again — clicked “publish” before finished. If you didn’t get whole thing, google perilsofeileen and click October for two recent posts. Glad you’re following! Thanks!
    Love, Eileen

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