People like to tease Booker Theophilus Lookitup about pretty much everything he cares about, from his incredibly sensible shoes to his seventies-style wire-rimmed aviator glasses. Booker shrugs it off. After all, what does he care about fashion? He's a librarian. His best friends are books and databases.
But lately, he thinks as he walks into Public Library X in Alexandria, Texas, it's starting to get worse. Even his co-workers are ribbing him about taste in clothes, or lack thereof. They're all "with it," as the kids say.
Peony, the reference librarian, gets a kick out of showing off the day-glo-color dragon tattoo on her arm to anyone with a research query for her. The new librarian, Brad, has a green-dyed Mohawk 'do. And Maud, her foot-long tangle of dreadlocks would give Medusa a run for her money.
Booker feels like a dinosaur these days. He's been in the business for longer than many of his colleagues have been alive, and keeping up with the changes can be hard sometimes. The one thing that still bugs him is the loss of card catalogues.
They used to take up half the space in the main library room. Now, they've been replaced by rows and rows of computer screens with zombie-like people mouse-clicking their way to what they assume is knowledge and enlightenment. It's nothing like the good old days.
"Hey, Booker. Dude, Earth to Booker. Good mornin'." Booker jolts out of his reverie. He sees Peony wave at him from behind a gaggle of Encyclopedia Brittanicae. Those dusty volumes were destined for the sub-sub-basement archives. That's where all hard copies go to die.
Welcome to the modern library: tattoos, Mohawks, dreadlocks, databases, pixels, acronyms—HTML, XML, what have you. Booker grins. It's a brave new world, and even though he misses the card catalogues, the modern world isn't all bad.
He kinda loves it, actually. Even if the first thing he faces every day is the barrage of email from the library Help account.
Booker waves to Peony and grunts greetings to everyone else on duty that morning. Sharon, the head honcho, glances up briefly and then goes back to filling out a mountain of order forms for things like a complete set of audiobooks of the collected works of Tom Clancy and laptops for the library bookmobiles that went around town twice a week laden with paperbacks and DVDs.
Brad and Maud are busy re-shelving books and priming the computer terminals for the expected flood of patrons that would appear at the door at 9:00AM sharp. Fifteen minutes to go, Booker reminds himself. He flips on those PCs. He goes from terminal to terminal. "Click" goes the mouse as the computer screens hum and spring to life. Click. Click. Welcome to the soundtrack of the modern library.
Click, click. Task done. The terminals are primed and ready to go.
Booker gets comfortable in his cubicle. It's in a remote corner hidden from view behind two stacks of books, far from the checkout traffic. He takes a deep breath and starts with the email.
There's an email from the EndNote team folks. They want him to repeat his wildly successful webex webinar on, guess what, EndNote, that he gave last year. "Mark that a 'yes,'" Booker thinks.
The next email—more like a string of emails—talks about the library's Foursquare promotions. "Gosh," Booker thinks. "Webinars, promotions, teaching literacy classes...when does a librarian have any time to do actual research and, like, commune with books?"
The answer to that question is: right now. It's 10:00AM and time for information desk duty. It's a Monday and the start of the school year. It's going to be a very busy day on this desk.
Sam, a freshman at the local college, is there the minute the doors open. He's asking for pointers on zingy facts to pump up the paper he's doing for a writing competition on great moments in world history. His focus: Attila the Hun and cannibalism.
Fun. Booker dredges juicy facts from the history database. Next up is a senior citizen who's deep into Esperanto and wants Booker to recommend mystery novels—written in Esperanto. Esperanto? Booker cringes. This oldster wants him to dig up a novel written in an artificial language, devised in 1887 by a Polish physician, that close to no one in their right mind speaks, or ever spoke.
What's the word for "mystery" in Esperanto? "Mistero." Bingo. Booker's on a roll.
Booker loves this process. He's the information guru. The weirder the request, the more of a challenge it is, so the more he likes it. Every now and then, he throws on a leather fedora and cracks a little whip—or at least he makes the sound of a cracking whip with his tongue.
More patrons and more info requests pass through his desk. Before he knows it, it's noon, and it's lunchtime. Booker uses his lunch to catch up on Helvetica, the film about the typeface, on his iPad. He's in geek heaven.
Booker's back at his desk by 1:00PM. The afternoon is what Booker calls "social hour." That's when he makes the rounds of computer terminals where patrons hunch in information-search mode and helps anybody who looks confused or frustrated. Or, in the case of the twenty-something gal who's about to hit the computer screen with her very large backpack, wild-eyed and desperate.
"Can I help you find something?" Booker asks in his most accommodating, friendly tone.
"What? Why? I want to find out about quilt patterns in Burundi in the early 20th century. Nothing! I'm finding nothing. This computer's stupid. And it broke my coffee holder."
"I'm so sorry you're having trouble. Have you tried browsing by subject?"
She gives him a blank look.
Sometimes it helps being an antique, Booker muses. In these days of keyword searches, lots of people don't know "subject" from a hole in the ground.
"Try 'arts and crafts' or 'sewing.'"
She clicks the mouse a couple of times. Victory. "Subject headings, wow," she said. "Who comes up with this stuff?"
"Librarians," Booker tells her with a touch of pride. "They sit around all day, assigning subject headings to clumps of information."
The gal's impressed. She thanks Booker for his help, then gets learning about quilting.
On to the next terminal. And the next. And the… Booker looks up at the ancient wall clock. It's 3:00PM. Time for the meeting with the performance team.
The library performance team, that is, and no, it isn't a sit-com pitch.
Oh, he loves these meetings. Booker heads to the conference room. Sharon and Maud are already there, sipping herbal tea and going over their checklists. They've been meeting with other teams throughout the day, and the agenda on the whiteboard looks pretty much the same as it always does.
The membership team wants to push library cards and get more Gen-Y'ers to join up. The acquisitions team would love to get some more e-books if the budget can allow it. The development team is just a fancy word for begging for money. Sharon, Maud, and Booker kick around some ideas until it's time for the reference team meeting.
The reference team is composed of Peony, Sharon, and Booker. This is one meeting that Booker doesn't mind at all—reference is his world. It's all about citation counts, hi-index stats for search results, Web of Science Interface updates, and Scopus database changes.
This sure beats doing video work—Booker occasionally shot video showing what librarians did all day in the library. Lights! Camera! Sound! Action! Meh. Not for him, thank you very much.
Those two hours go by in a flash. 5:00PM. Booker's workday ends.
Next stop: a bookstore.
A librarian's day never really ends. They keep on cruising that big, ol' information highway. Morning, noon, and night...sometimes even on Sunday.