Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Conan the Librarian
Yesterday I did what you are supposed to do on a rainy day, which was go to the library. Sometimes, going to the library now, I think of how much it has changed. You used to have to be quiet -- now it's loud, with people talking in normal voices, laughing and carrying on. They even have that cafe. Who would have imagined that?
Librarians, though, have not changed. They are still a funny bunch. Some are helpful and some are downright hostile.
Experience has taught me to approach a librarian the way you'd approach a strange dog. I am humble, wheedling, conciliatory. I always think I should be holding out my hand for the librarian to sniff. Maybe I will do that next time. Anyway, a good rule seems to be to go for the younger one. So yesterday, I zeroed in on a young man behind the information desk. He was reading Dostoyevsky. And I pegged him right, because he was kind to me. He helped me find the back issues of Musical America I was looking for. Musical America, from 1959. I am such a geek!
As I waited for my back issues, I was sure glad I didn't go to the other guy, the older guy on the other side of the desk. Was this guy mean!
He just sat there, glaring. I watched with pity as another library patron approached him. The patron was a tall, nicely dressed black guy with a shaved head. Like me, he approached the librarian with deference and excessive politeness. We always talk about librarians being weenies. Wrong, wrong, wrong! The truth is, they turn the rest of us into weenies.
The conversation I overheard went something like this:
Patron: "Excuse me, sir. I was informed at the desk over there (pointing) that this-or-this reference would be available to me if I asked at this desk..."
Librarian: "No, that does not circulate." (Looks away with vast indifference.)
Patron retreats, salaaming. As I would have done, in his place. What choice do you have?
But my luck continued. My best find, yesterday: In the Grosvenor Room, another helpful staffer, finding that I was researching Leonard Pennario, pointed me in the direction of their Scrapbooks. My brother George has told me about these scrapbooks, which he says were a WPA project. You can waste hours with them. The librarian found four stories on Pennario for me, in four separate volumes.
There is no rhyme or reason to these scrapbooks. Next to a story about Pennario ("Buffalo-Born Artist Rose Swiftly To Fame") was pasted a story headlined: "Blind Miller Keeps on Job, Making Flour, Selling Seed." Another Pennario story shared a page with a story on a Pearl Harbor veteran. Under the main headline was a sub-headline: "Organized Loyal Japs."
No end of treasures in our library. The challenge is just finding them.