As card catalogs vanish, a seasoned librarian sends a field report from the public library.
It may not be the Bodleian or the New York Public, but assistant librarian Borchert asserts that the action in his Los Angeles branch library is at least lively—frequented by some notably odd patrons and, after school, mobs of spirited kids. Interrupting the flow of books are a variety of confrontations in the stacks and out in the parking lot. Many give rise to incident reports for senior administrators and, consequently, these animated yarns for readers. There’s the vicious patron who demands his check-outs stacked in alphabetical order; the battling moms punching noses and ripping pantyhose; the latchkey waifs in need of a safe place; the folksy granny with her home-baked cookies. And, of course, there’s that really nasty stuff in the return bin. It’s quite a strain on the good-natured, often short-handed civil servants, the volunteers, the children’s librarian and wise Mr. Gregory, the custodian. The author frequently acts as enforcer. In many ways, this not the library of old, quietly run by the shushing, bun-haired librarian. Yet in other ways, it’s still the welcoming place it always was, in symbiosis with school kids and pensioners, where they repair books, forgive fines, present puppet shows and stretch budgets as much as possible. And if you simply promise to bring it back, you can take whatever you like home with you.
Borchert’s memoir of 12 years in a public library—with a few words about what he did on his vacation—generates light entertainment, but is not likely to be kept overdue.