A friend of mine from a public library shared this email with me, which they had received from a co-worker:
Two parole officers came to children’s desk looking for an Hispanic man, in a wheelchair, with missing teeth.  I had not seen such a person since I came on children’s desk at 12:15.  They said they would go out to their car and return with a photo of him and a card with their number so we could call if we saw this man.  They never returned.  They said this man should not be in the children’s section. 

     No shit, right? I love the description of this dire individual. This is normal for the public library.


          In the 1990s I worked in the Children's Room of the Santa Ana Public Library.  I LOVED it there.  One of my favorite author/artists I discovered in the picture book section was William Steig.  (He created the original Shrek picture book, which looks nothing like the movie)
          The Amazing Bone was my favorite of Steig's works.  It's the story of Pearl, a dainty piglet in a cheery spring frock who finds a magical talking bone that's fallen out of a witch's basket.  The bone is so awesome it manages to save Pearl from robbers, and a hungry fox.  But I won't tell you how, you'll have to read the book.
(Keep your mind out of the gutter)

          Sometimes I ended up in charge of Children's activities, such as showing the old (barely-)animated film of The Amazing Bone to a bunch of kids in our Storytime Room.  The entrance to the Storytime Room was painted to look like the drawbridge of a medieval castle.  Bitchin', right?  Anyway, this old film cracked me up because Pearl the pig was obviously voiced by a man, and the pacing was very slooow and drawn out.  The best line was some part where Pearl is in peril and moans, "Oh, Bone..." in this really overwrought way.
          My best friend Julie (our Young Adult Librarian) and I used to make fun of that a lot.  Actually, we still do, when applicable.  Julie even made me a special bookmark from the cover of a discarded copy of The Amazing Bone.
          But "The Amazing Bone" has a dual meaning for me (I thought I said to keep your mind out of the gutter, that's not what I'm talking about!) because I also think of my favorite library tool as "The Amazing Bone."
          What is this marvelous library tool?  Why, it's a "bone folder," used when putting the mylar covers on hardback dustjackets, and also & especially used to smooth out air bubbles when applying clear contact paper to paperbacks to make them sturdier and more impervious to wear.  This simple bone folder is amazing and mysterious.  Is it really made from whale bone?  No one knows.  (Well, I don't know, and I'm the only one here.)
"Oh, Bone..."
          The Library Bone makes the most perfect, crisp folds, and makes contact paper glide on like silk.  Sometimes I can't find my Library Bone, and I curse and rail at God until it appears again.
          This brings me to another fond memory from those public library Children's Room years.  An older librarian, Jane, had been working on something that required a bone folder, but apparently she couldn't find it.  So, being from an older generation and rather naive, she moved slowly back and forth in our work area, asking everyone, "Have you seen the boner?  I can't find the boner.  Does anyone know where it is?"


          I received a Facebook message from a former student asking me for help on a presentation for one of her college classes. The subject was "School Question." The message read:

Hey Tommy! I have to do a short presentation on the future of public libraries for one of my classes on Wednesday. I wanted to just ask you what you thought about the current library situation (for example: cutting back on days, not providing as many books, etc) and what direction they will be going. Also, your views on the same situation but for school libraries.

The deformed narwal's inability to turn the book's pages,
due to its lack of appendages, represents... um...
the library's inability to provide adequate service due to
lack of funding & staffing.
          I wrote her back right away, typing furiously because of course it's something I really care about. I told her I think it's a shame that libraries are so under-valued. It doesn't matter how many books we check out, how busy we are, what an awesome program we have going, none of that seems to translate into funding. I know things are pretty much the same for public libraries, too.
          Julie and I were just talking about how neither of us (she's a public library Director) have an actual book budget, and have to depend on donations and grants, and any other "special funding" we can drum up to buy new books. Every year we have to get craftier and craftier. It's not like there aren't many new books being published! The Young Adult market is exploding all over the place. How are we supposed to keep up?
          We almost had some Librarian positions cut this year, but an old dude retired, so the district just left that position open, and didn't lay anybody off. But that means the Librarian I work with will now have THREE schools to bounce back-and-forth between, instead of just two. I'm by myself two to three days a week as it is.
          Oh, and even though they keep cutting library staffing and funding, they still expect the same level of service, and the same quality and quantity of materials. It's very frustrating.
          I know we're a vital part of the school. There are even times every week when we have to put out the "library full" sign. The most we can handle at one time is 40 students. (We have the smallest library in the whole school district)
          Tomorrow is Back To School night, and I've been asked to keep the library open for it. I guess I'll put a big box on the counter that says, "HELP! Please donate!" and beg for money all night. Maybe I should wear rags, and smear some coal on my face.
          As far as what direction I think libraries are GOING...
          I fear it will be more of the same over the next couple of years, if not worse.
          Maybe the problem is that we library workers are too solitary and too meek. Especially solitary in the public school system, since we're literally by ourselves most of the time, and others have little or no idea how much we actually do. And many library workers tend to be quiet and uncomplaining. Do we need to complain more? Do we need to continually march up to the office and loudly gripe about how many kids were in the library that morning, and how the phone kept ringing, and all our "other related duties" (lost-and-found, lockers, computers, copier, etc)?  Sometimes I get a little sick of hearing the 3 main office ladies bitch about how so-and-so doesn't want to help out on the phones, or so-and-so isn't good about taking her break on time, or whatever.  There's THREE of them up there, and ONE of me in here.
          It's like how the Republicans usually get their way because lots of them are louder and meaner than most Democrats.
          I have allowed myself to go on a bit of a tirade here, I guess.  I did not write all this in response to that former student's question, I swear!