People always liked to tease Booker Theophilus Lookitup about everything he ever cared about, starting with his sensible shoes and his ancient-looking, ‘70s-style wire-rimmed aviator glasses. Booker shrugs it off. After all, what did he care about fashion!? He was a librarian. His best friends were books and databases.
But lately, he was thinking as he walked into Public Library X in Alexandria, Texas, lately, even his co-workers were ribbing him about taste in clothes, or lack thereof. Peony, the reference librarian, got a kick out of showing off her day-glo-color dragon tattoo on her arm to anyone with a research query for her. And then there was the new librarian, Brad — he had a green-dyed mohawk ‘do. And his colleague Maud— gawd — her foot-long tangle of dreadlocks would give Medusa a run for her money.
Booker, yeah Booker the baby boomer, felt like a dinosaur these days. Hey, he was a dinosaur. Brontosaurus – oops, Apatosaurus, probably. (Flunked Jenny Craig. Twice.) He’d been in the business for longer than many of his colleagues had been alive. Sure, sure, but he was keeping up with the changes the best he could, boomer that he was. Card catalogs — the rows and rows of dead trees that used to take up half the space in the main library room? Gone. In their place were rows and rows of computer screens, with people looking at the screens, like zombies, he thought, mouse-clicking their way to what they assumed was knowledge and enlightenment.
“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 was where all hard copies went to die.
Dude, dude?! Tattoos. Mohawks. Dreadlocks. Databases. Pixels. Acronyms — HTML, XML, what have you. Booker grins. Welcome to the modern library. He kinda loves it, actually. Even if the first thing he faces every day was the barrage of e-mail from the library Help account. And then he plows through “user” (Booker loved that term) search queries and tweets, courtesy of Flipboard.
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, 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 a.m. sharp. 15 minutes to go, Booker reminds himself. Flip 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. Terminals primed and ready to go.
Booker gets comfortable in his cubicle. It was in a remote corner hidden from view behind to stacks of books, far, far from the checkout traffic. He takes a deep breath and starts with the e-mail.
Groan. There’s an e-mail 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.
Next e-mail, actually no, an e-mail string talking about the library’s Foursquare promotions. Gosh, Booker was thinking. Webinars. Promotions. Teaching literacy classes. When does a librarian have any time to do actual research and, like, commune with books?
Actually, right now. It was 10 a.m., and it’s time for information desk duty. It’s a Monday. It’s the start of the school year. It’s going to be a very busy day on this desk, Booker predicts.
Well, he’s right. Sam, a freshman at the local college is there on the dot. 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.
Don’t ruin your appetite. Oh. Too late.
Fun. Booker dredges juicy facts from the history database. Next. A senior citizen is 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 his, or her, 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 is the information guru. The weirder the request, the more of a challenge. And the more he likes it. Every now and then, he throws on a leather fedora and cracks a little whip – or, well, makes that sound with his tongue.
Esperanto. Cannibalism. Bring it on! Booker grunts in pleasure. Oops. He was getting strange looks. Oops.
More patrons. More info requests. Before he knows it, it’s noon.
Lunch. Subway. Yum. He uses the time to catch up on “Helvetica” on his iPad, you know that film about typeface. Booker is in geek heaven.
But work calleth. Booker is back at his desk by 1. 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. He makes sure to stop first at the desks of the ones who look the most wild-eyed. Booker pounces on the one who looked most desperate, 20-something gal who is about to hit the computer screen with her very large backpack.
“Can I help you find something?” Booker purrs 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 is stupid. And it broke my coffee holder.”
Booker pushed back the DVD holder into its slot.
“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 ground.
“Try ‘arts and crafts’ or ‘sewing.’ ”
She clicks the mouse a couple of times.
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, he says.
Fun. Cool. The gal is impressed.
Onto the next terminal. And the next. And the… Booker looks up at the ancient wall clock. It’s 3. Time for the meeting. The performance team.
Library “performance team” and no, this is not a sit-com pitch.
Oh, he loves those meetings. Booker heads to the conference room. Sharon and Maud are already there, sipping herbal green tea. They already had their checklists, and the agenda was penned on the whiteboard. The discussion goes — what teams are we forming?
Membership team? Gotta get more Gen-Y’ers to join up. We gotta push those library cards.
Acquisitions team? E-books, here we come – if we get the budget.
Development team? “Development,” Booker thinks, is just a fancy word for begging for money. Fun!
Booker winces. Meetings. Save me.
Next? The reference team meeting. Same room, different folks. Peony and Sharon, but no Maud. This was one meeting Booker doesn’t mind at all because it was his world. Citation counts. Hi-index stats for search results. Web of Science Interface updates. Scopus database changes. This sure beat 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 o’clock. 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.