The Library's Prodigal Returns

by Bill Peak

After a long, lovely vacation in the Smoky Mountains, tomorrow I go back to work. I don't know about you, but I always face first days back with a little trepidation. How many challenges have stacked up in my absence? What's my e-mail queue look like? Did I really finish everything before I left, or will I walk in to find people staring daggers at me because I've left something important undone? And most worrying, do I still remember all the minutiae necessary to successfully navigate one's way through a shift at the Circulation Desk, or one at Reference?

The diversity of problems and questions we are presented with at these two desks never ceases to amaze and, occasionally, confound me. Will I remember, for instance, how to create duplicate application forms on the computer when a family of five comes up all wanting new library cards at the same time, and will I remember how to transfer a telephone call to the children's section, or, worse still, one to the boss? And at Reference, where is it that we keep the files on job search resources, and where the flash drive recording back copies of The Star Democrat? These are the sort of details, related to one another by neither type nor logic, that can strike terror in one's heart when, suddenly, on the first day back, you are called upon to remember them in an instant.

But mixed with the anxiety, there's also, inevitably, a part of me excited about returning to work. What do you suppose Miss Rosemary's been up to in my absence? What new cut-outs has she used to decorate the walls of the children's wing, what new books will be featured in story-time, which props and which puppets? And what unheard-of questions about what unthought-of subjects will the children themselves be asking tomorrow? What antics will they entertain me with, with which forms of innocence will they once again—as they do every day—renew my faith in man?

And what new adult programs will be on tap? The whole time I was in North Carolina (where tiny, twisting streams overhung by hemlock and rhododendron require everyone to fish with a stunted little rod unlike anything I'd ever seen before), I was kicking myself for missing the program on fly-fishing given at the St. Michaels branch during my absence. Who knows what I might have learned?

And then, finally, there are all the wonderful people I'll see again. I actually dreamt about some of our library staff while I was gone—the sort of dreams in which a person, true to character, explains some strangeness in the world of the dream, makes it seem reasonable, less frightening, more manageable. Which, when you think about it, is exactly the sort of thing library staff often do for us in the real world as well. And it goes without saying that I'm looking forward to seeing our patrons. Over the years as we've talked about favorite books, interesting subjects, shared our triumphs, mourned our losses, many of them have become close friends. At one time or another I suppose most of the people in Talbot County have come to find rest or comfort in the library's ample lap—and today it feels as though I've missed every one of them.