Shelf life

On the joys of libraries and library people.

My favorite Saturdays as a child were spent browsing at the neighborhood branch of our public library. After my sister and I picked up an armful of books each, we went home for what my dad called “literary lunch” (reading at the table over a bowl of SpaghettiOs). So, bookish type that I was, I naturally felt thrilled when at 17 I got a job—my very first—at the library’s children’s branch.

The excitement quickly gave way to reality. A sane person can shelve only so many books about dinosaurs, it turns out. The bookcases were low to the ground to accommodate our little patrons, which meant I spent a lot of time crawling around on threadbare carpet and reshelving Clifford the Big Red Dog. (For context, this took place during the low-rise jeans craze of the mid-2000s, an era when crouching was fraught with complexity and peril.)

What made the job tolerable, and often wonderful, was the people. Our young bibliophiles may have had an unending appetite for heavy and difficult-to-shelve encyclopedias of dinosaurs, but they were happy to be there, and the feeling was contagious. I was a little in awe of the librarians I worked alongside. With our patrons, they were gentle guides to the world of literature; in the break room, they were opinionated, caustic, raunchy, and kind of punk rock.

I discovered that one librarian, who initially came off as a bit of a schoolmarm, was a massive Rolling Stones fan. I brought her a magazine with Mick Jagger on the cover and she shrieked—and I mean really shrieked—with happiness. She gave me a wonderfully practical graduation gift: a hair dryer that I used for the next 15 years.

Libraries are great; library people are even greater.

Happily, a new library person joined UChicago’s ranks this past spring. To learn more about new University librarian Torsten Reimer’s vision for this beloved and essential campus resource, check out “Preserve and Connect.”

Guest appearance

This is my second time guest editing the Magazine in Laura Demanski’s (AM’94) stead. I’ve learned new lessons (page planning is hard) but relearned an old one. As with my high school library gig, the people make all the difference. To our team—and to you, our readers—I’m so glad you’re here. Dinosaur books are over by the window.