How the Talbot County Free Library Works
by Bill Peak
A year and a half ago I officially retired from the library. Oh, I
still wrote this column, still wrote the occasional press release, but
the only reason I ever walked into the library itself was as a patron.
And with Covid striking so soon after I retired, I seldom got to do
even that. I missed the place terribly.
Of course I told myself this was just a reflection of habit, that once
I got used to my newly acquired life of ease I would find it just as
pleasurable as I had always dreamt it would be. And then too, of
course, there were all those chores to be done, all those tasks I had
put off doing while I was working, telling myself that as soon as I
retired I'd have the time to really do a proper job of them.
But I was in for a surprise. Days came and went, months came and
went, and still the garage had not been cleared out, still the filing
system in my study resembled nothing so much as an archaeological dig
(the lower the strata, the older the documents to be found). I began
to realize that what I had always feared might in fact be true:
organizing my work, clearing up the detritus of previous days and
years, holds no interest for me. Something new to write, new to look
at, new to think about—those are the things that will get me charging
out of bed in the morning.
And those, of course, are the sort of things one encounters every day
in the library. So, tail between my legs, I went to Dana Newman and
Scotti Oliver (respectively the library's director and assistant
director) and begged them to put me back in harness. And, thankfully,
they did. Now, each Thursday morning, from nine to eleven, I can be
found sitting at the Information Desk trying to look intelligent (the
glasses help), trying to look like someone with information to impart.
Fortunately, wisely, Dana spent my first day sitting out there with
me, going over the routines both new and old, assuring herself that I
knew what I was doing before inflicting me full bore upon the poor
unsuspecting citizens of Talbot County. Still, as with most jobs,
there is so much detail to be remembered, so many new and unexpected
situations to be dealt with, even with Dana's kind tutelage there was
no way I was going to be prepared for all that I would encounter.
I hope I never forget the patron who came up to me that second
Thursday on the Information Desk, showed me something on his iPad that
he said he wanted to print. Already, I knew I was in trouble. First
and foremost, I don't own an iPad myself: the device's rites and
incantations remain a mystery for me. Moreover, I had been told in a
staff meeting the previous week that there were new procedures to be
followed in printing from a device other than the library's own
computers, and that they were complicated.
So, first, rather than look at that dreaded iPad, I tried to convince
the poor fellow to print his documents using a public computer.
Reluctantly, he agreed. But once I'd shown him how to use his library
card to log on and fire up one of our computers, he realized he didn't
remember his password and, consequently, couldn't access his email to
retrieve the documents he wanted to print.
Back to the Information Desk. Once again I avoided looking at the
man's iPad myself, asking, instead, that he use it to bring up our
library website so I could walk him through the procedures required to
print from his device. Feeling myself on familiar ground once our
website appeared on his screen, I showed him how to access the form he
needed to fill out that would give him a release code for the document
he wanted to print—a release code which, in turn, I could use to print
his document from my computer. The man took one look at the form now
occupying his screen, shook his head and said, “But I've already done
all this. That's what I was trying to show you when I first sat down.
I already have the release codes on my iPad.”
Even with glasses on, it's awfully hard to look intelligent when
you've done something so stupid. Add to this that, while I was
needlessly walking the fellow through the steps needed to acquire the
release codes he already had, he had also had to wait every time I
answered the I-Desk phone … and you can see how patient the poor guy
was. And he never complained, never failed to follow each step in my
useless advice carefully, faithfully, a slightly amused, slightly
bemused, smile creasing his face.
All of which is my way of saying thank you to all our patrons for the
patience they show when we try to help them in the library. It always
amazes me how diverse and complicated the problems are that people
bring to us for solution. That any of these ever get solved (and, in
truth, they pretty much all do … eventually) is a tribute not so much
to any library staffer's genius as to the genius and generosity of
both library staff and library patron. Together we make it work;
together we are the Talbot County Free Library.