Coming Soon to a Library Near You

by Bill Peak

There is of course something endearing, even iconic, about mothers watching over their children at the library. On any given day you can almost always find a mother or two sitting back in the children's section with her brood—her stillness, her calm, the harbor from which their antics radiate.

But being a guy, and something of a father manqué, I also get a kick out of the children who come into the library with their dads. Nowadays of course some of these are regulars, men who visit our children's section with their toddlers as often as once or twice a week. I like these guys, think of them as pioneers in a brave new world, but, truth be told, it's the amateurs, the ones that normally spend their days with other grown-ups laying asphalt or selling real estate that are the most fun to watch. They're so clearly new at this, new to the idea of walking around, hand in hand, with a being no taller than a bicycle pump.

The other day I watched one of these pairs, a real Mutt and Jeff act (he was easily six-three, while she was just plain six), going through the videos in the children's section, the normal roles of parent and child seemingly reversed: the one on high timid and unsure, the one at his feet self-confident and commanding. Watching that little girl lecture her father on the relative merits of Pocahontas II versus Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I found myself envying the man, envying the opportunity he was giving himself to participate, however briefly, in the fleeting wonder of his daughter's childhood—the daily-ness of it, its simple pleasures and joys.

And so, at least for the length of this article, I think I'll join him, let that daughter of his lead me up to a subject new to this column ... the movies, our library's extensive collection of videotapes and DVDs.

Now don't get me wrong, I remain a committed bibliophile. One of the best things about working at the library is the chance it gives me every day to handle large numbers of those mysterious items we call “books.” But movies have their own strengths, don't they? In her autobiography Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen may evoke an image of the Great Rift Valley or her farm at the foot of the Ngong hills that will stay with you the rest of your life, but only the movie made from that book can actually show you the place, take you winging in over Lake Natron's sapphire waters in a 1928 Moth biplane, scattering flamingos as you go.

And how about Sam Spade? He may have come to life in a hail of Dashiell Hammett's tommy-gun prose, but who can doubt it was Humphrey Bogart's acting in the movie version of The Maltese Falcon that turned the image of a lone private eye battling evil and ennui into a quintessentially American hero?

The wonder of this, of course, is that, thanks to the library, you can watch either of these movies—and hundreds of others like them—free of charge whenever you'd like. The place has a seemingly endless supply of great flicks—Lawrence of Arabia, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner, Casablanca, Shane, The Sting, Blood Diamond, Hud, Hotel Rwanda, Doctor Zhivago—you name it, we've got it ... or will try to get it for you from another library. Netflix and may be corporate giants, but I honestly don't see how they can ever hope to compete with the humble little unassuming organization known as the Talbot County Free Library.

But back to Mutt and Jeff. As luck would have it, I was working behind the desk when they checked out. Like most of us at the library, I'm a sucker for little kids, so I leaned across the counter and oohed and aahed over the child's selections. But despite my every effort, the little girl refused to smile, holding tight to her father's hand and regarding me with undisguised suspicion. Well, I told myself, that's ok, she's probably been taught to be wary of strange men.

Then, as the two of them turned to leave, the little girl looked back up at me and announced, as one might one's plans to visit Paris or Tierra del Fuego, that she and her daddy would now be going to the park. Once more I made big over this, telling her I thought such an expedition sounded grand, and it was then that the child—regarding me now a little less doubtfully—spoke a final time. “Would you like to come with us?” she asked.

You see why I love working at the library? Where else can you expect to receive such offers?