I have always wanted to be a librarian. Ever since I was a little girl on the red beanbag in my local library looking at the pictures in a book about bunnies while my mother talked, in whispers, with a librarian behind a tall wooden counter.
She was the classic librarian stereotype - glasses, greying hair tied back, a hand-knitted cardigan, the works. I was in love.
I don’t look like her. I don’t need glasses for a start. I’m only 27 so if I spot a grey hair in my black bob there’s gonna be trouble and the last hand-knitted cardigan I wore was the one my grandmother made me when I was ten. It itched, a lot, and I hated it. Sorry, Gran.
Being like that librarian is impossible for me but being a librarian is, as of today, my job!
After finishing my library studies course a couple of months ago, I picked up some temp work over the summer, but this is my first “proper job” in a library, so I was determined to turn up looking the part. I even considered getting a pair of clear glass spectacles as a prop to show I was a real librarian, but my Dad laughed so hard at that suggestion that I decided against it.
My room is scattered with nearly every item of clothing I own. My interview suit was way too formal but rocking up in a hoodie wouldn’t set the right tone, would it?
Settling on skinny jeans with a spotty blouse and my favourite sweater after too many minutes wasted, I skipped breakfast and cycled to the library. I’m lucky to have landed my nearest library. No, it’s not the one with the red beanbag. I don’t live with my folks anymore.
My library (wow, that sounds good) is a small one in what used to be two red brick houses on the village’s main street. It’s not really big enough as Dublin's commuter zone has expanded to swamp the village in recent years and now the library serves a large population. They added a box-shaped modern extension at the back a few years ago, and would love to level the place and build something new and trendy instead but there have been local objections. I read up about it before my interview.
The head librarian met me at the door.
“Nina, welcome to the library! I’ll just get you interfaced with the senior librarian and then I’ve got to go. I've a video-conference with the information services executive.”
Understanding Boss Lady requires a business degree or a large dictionary. I nodded and smiled. She herded me to the issuing desk, past a display of books, including “Olive Kitteridge” which my Mum loved. Behind the desk sat a woman who must have been assaulted on the way to work. Her hair was uncombed, she had a rip in the shoulder of her sweat-top and her lipstick was smeared.
I opened my mouth to ask if she was alright but Boss Lady kept talking. “Linda, this is Nina, your new minion. Induction, indoctrination, and inspiration this week. Perfect. Feedback later. Bye.”
She spun away and vanished upstairs, to her Very Important office, no doubt.
Linda shoved a pile of folders across the crowded desk. “Read these. You don’t have a system ID yet.”
By eleven I wanted to burn down the library.
The folders contained soul-destroying documents of evil written by the worst writers in history - government employees. Three editions of the same staff handbook, an introduction to library services which my college lecturers wouldn’t even inflict on students on their first day, a treatise on the importance of political impartially when working for the public library service, and to round out my despair - a 200 page health and safety briefing. I mean, libraries aren’t dangerous, the worst you can get is a paper-cut or a sore back if you lift too many atlases at the same time.
At noon Linda passed me mumbling “you’re on lunch cover”. I moved my pile from the study table to the issuing desk and wondered how I could check out books without an ID. She had left herself logged in. Fine.
I put the folders aside and explored the system, the same software as I’d used when temping, thank goodness. We weren’t busy anyhow. A few parents were playing with toddlers in the children's section, two older men were using the computers, and one worried looking guy in his twenties was approaching the desk.
I took a deep breath. I could do this. I was a real librarian.
“Hi, um, do you have the new book by Elizabeth Stout?”
Resisting the urge to tell him the author is called Strout, not Stout, I checked the catalogue. “No, I’m sorry we don’t have “Olive, Again”. I can request it for ordering. Or an inter-library loan but I’ll need the senior librarian to do that and she’s on lunch.”
His eyes glazed over as I rambled. “Did you say Olive Again?”
“Yes, her most recent book.”
“Mum didn’t say that. It was snicker something.”
He grinned. “Yeah.”
“That one we have. I was talking about the new sequel. I’ll show you.”
He left with the book.
I’d helped a book into the right hands. I didn't need training folders, health and safety guidelines, or glasses and grey hair.
I’m a real librarian, at last.