Monday, August 19, 2013

The Knowledge of Living

            You learn the most important things at the library, and I’m not talking about the “reading is knowledge” spiel educators use to inform the public on the benefits of tax-paid books. It’s the kind of things that only a public environment, filled with anyone and everyone, can share to the less informed, and more sheltered individuals such as myself. I’ve expanded my vocabulary by learning new words such as “bong” or “macking”. I’ve observed that black leggings with white underwear are considered suitable legwear. I’ve encountered multitasking by running away from a couples’ fight while simultaneously noting that people still use Myspace and use Myspace to write down nasty messages that start fights.
            Yet, if I think about it, I could have learned these facts from anywhere. You just have to step outside your front door to encounter the best and brightest possibilities the public world has to offer to you. School life has been famous for its second education, the kind taught by your more informed peers. I admit I’ve garnered some information from my public schools, mostly how long I can procrastinate before doing my assignments. I’m sure parks and malls are just as suitable education grounds. I just happened to latch onto the library.
            It happened just like an addiction. I wasn’t introduced to the library when I was a little kid. Instead, my mother bought me picture books which slowly progressed to chapter books. She had me hooked on Harry Potter, which she read to my sister and me every night. I didn’t get my first real visit to a library until the family moved from a big city in Missouri to a small town in Kansas. The school I went to in Kansas was horrible, but they had a great library, so I went there to start getting my real book rush, which was aided by new and frequent trips to the public library with my mom. We left that small town in Kansas in less than a year, but my need for books wasn’t settled as I moved to a middle school with an even better library. It was in middle school when my book addiction helped me with the special public-environment education.
            The first rule was never turn the computer on during after-school hours. Computers are the holy instruments of the library and not to be touched when off except by those who work there. I didn’t realize I had done anything wrong until I heard the librarian say, “Who turned that on?” and I shift around in my seat to see her standing behind my back, staring down at me. I made a sort of sideways glance to the other line of six computers, hoping I wasn’t the only one here. I was, so I looked up at her and said, “me”. She leaned over me to reach the computer and pressed the power button before the computer had even finished starting. “You don’t turn the computer on after I turn them off,” she said and I nodded, then scooted out of there and walked briskly down the fluorescent light and linoleum floor hallway without the book I was hoping to find.
            After my first lesson I had some reservations about going to the library again, but when you have an addiction your self-preservation instincts are put on the back-burner. It didn’t help that my mom had decided to start taking my sister and me to a public library nearby our house, where I encountered a teen book section for people around my age. However, I spent infrequent amounts of time in the library, so my education was not as prolific as it was later on, when my addiction would require stable doses of library visitation to satisfy my book needs.
            I’d never heard of volunteering at the library before until I was almost thirteen. I was with my parents and my sister in the children’s department at the library near our house. My dad was talking to the librarian there, looking for a book for my sister. He liked to talk though, so the conversation, while I was looking for a book, had veered toward my age and before I knew what was going on he called me over to the desk. My mother, my father, and the librarian stood around me in a semi-circle, smiling like they had good news for me. It felt like a ritual, the kind that requires a sacrifice, and it was. It was the ritual of getting your first job. My dad spoke first. “Mrs. Brown would like to tell you something,” he said. The librarian looked at me, “Hi Sunshine, how are you?” she started. “Fine,” I replied, clasping my hands over the books I was holding. “We have a program where people your age can help out at the library. I have a paper here and if you fill this out with your parents you can volunteer here every week. How does that sound?” I shrugged my shoulders which wasn’t the right answer. The librarian turned to the people who mattered, my parents, and handed them the paper. “Turn it in whenever you’re ready,” she said and walked back to her desk.
My parents looked at me, and I knew that the decision had already been made. “I’m not old enough to volunteer, and they wouldn’t want me to work because I’m a bad worker. They’ll fire me,” I said and my dad laughed. “You’re working for free. They’d never fire someone like you,” he said. I just shook my head, all of my unreasonable defenses had already been said. “How do you know unless you try,” he told me. I looked over to my mom. “Dad’s right,” she said.
            Wanting to avoid the topic, I stomped up the four steps that separated the children’s department from the rest of the library and checked out my books at the desk. My parents, after getting my sister, followed me. One year later I stepped into the main library branch for volunteer orientation. It was my second lesson.
            The lessons grew more numerous as I spent more time at the library. The man in the flowered hat wasn’t actually all that bad, you could never find a book someone was looking for in nonfiction, and yes, your name was still “Sunshine” no matter how many people asked when looking at your name tag, and the list continued. I went from volunteer to employee where longer hours brought more responsibilities.
            I often ask myself if I it was worth learning that the kid on computer nine was watching porn or that John, a regular visitor, had once drunk Kool-Aid with two packages worth of cough drops melted inside it. I think about these public-environment lessons, which are really just part of any life lessons, and I say to myself “sure, why not,” because it keeps life interesting. It keeps it moving forward.

No comments:

Post a Comment