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the 'brary chronicles: an introduction
bullets, knives, free stuff and oh yeah, books
by albert garcia
pop culture

I’ve been behind the desk at public and academic libraries since high school. Currently, I’m a sub for a county library system filling in for librarians, clerks and library assistants. I find the job description to be a mix of social worker, security guard and bartender. In between trying not to get trampled upon opening the doors in the morning and trying to get patrons out the doors usually after closing, I can be heard saying some of the following things in no particular order:

Yes, these computers will allow you to check your Facebook page…no your dog can’t wait for you in the bathroom… the career books are this way…the citizenship books are over here…you can borrow 100 books, 100 magazines, 10 DVD’s, 10 music CD’s, 10 books on CD and 10 VHS, yes for free …printing from the computer is $.10 a page…yes, we have a copy machine and yes I have $.45, but no I won’t lend it to you...all 146 copies of the Help are checked out and 288 people are waiting, would you like to be number 289?...have you used the Link + database? It gives you access to an additional 50 public and academic library systems...yes, for free…you can’t eat that in here… no more than two people to a computer...yes, Stephen King writes a lot of books…no, we don’t have a fax machine…you can stay here all day and access the Internet on your laptop, yes for free.

In addition to stopping kids from running and adults from ranting on cell phones, I and the other desk workers are holding down the front lines at the libraries of 2011, or like a friend of mine calls them - the ‘braries of 2011. While Austen, Dickens and Tolstoy are still on the shelf, the CD’s and DVD’s and their silly plastic cases get a lot more play and desks of computers fill in the spaces and line the walls. The library system I work for is also sporting self registration, self check-in, self check-out, book vending machines, RFID tags, Wi-Fi, QR codes and apps - stuff that makes CD’s and DVD’s sound so last century.

And who’s in the ‘brary these days? Everybody. From the babies in their urban assault strollers and the old timer asking for the magnifying glass to the woman studying for the civil service exam, the teenager checking out 25 graphic novels and the well dressed middle aged men and women looking for books on resumes, cover letters and starting a new career. It’s a place where kids congregate to inhale edible and drinkable sugar and homeless and social outcasts know the staff by name and the code to the bathroom by heart.

In the episode called “the Library,” Jerry Seinfeld likened the library to the friend who lends you his toys if you would just be his friend. “That's what the library is. A government funded pathetic friend. And that's why everybody kind of bullies the library.”

While most people might not think of the library as tough, someone recently shot a library that I work in and I’m glad to tell you - the library won. The bullet did poke a hole in a window and cracked a panel of the venetian blinds but as it continued on its way it struck a book and was rejected by that book onto a nearby shelf. The library wasn’t open when it was shot. In fact it was a few days before the library staff even noticed the library had been shot. The book is dented and a few pages are ripped but it will continue to circulate and the library is still open, evidence that books and the places that hold them are as tough as the world around them.

Seinfeld does have a point. Libraries do want you to friend them, these days on Facebook, but the point is lost on the fact that in 2011, the library is still straight giving things away. In addition to the materials that are available through the various databases, there are tickets to local museums, zoos and theatres to be printed for - you guessed it - free.

It isn’t all good in the library these days. Privatization is moving in, and bean counters are trying to wrestle away more and more power from community libraries. I’m just a grunt on the front lines and I can’t speak to what is going on in the upper levels, but I can tell you the ‘braries are full of people these days. The American Library Association website features statistics regarding library usage, questions answered by reference librarians yearly and studies conducted by various library systems detailing how money spent on libraries is returned to the community but of all the statistics, the one I like sharing is that there are more libraries in the United States than Starbucks and more than McDonald’s.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is get down to your local ‘brary and get your free stuff. Until the next time here’s a few more lines from the ‘brary archive:

Sir, you can’t have that knife in here...if we have books that will help you break up with your boyfriend and stay broken up, they would be here...no, the library is not selling your personal information to the Chinese...I don’t know what the password to your yahoo account is...the books on how to get meth out of your system by Friday are - let me get back to you on that...the library is now closed! No, you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.


Most comfortable on a bar stool, Albert Garcia grew up in Los Angeles and attended the University of California and the University of London. He lives with his wife in Northern California, loves to travel and writes with a Pilot Q7.

more about albert garcia


jael mchenry
10.31.11 @ 1:32p

Thanks for fighting the good fight, man. Libraries are powerful places, and thank goodness we have them.

(And thank goodness they can also take a bullet! Wow.)

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