An Inconspicuous Part of the Library

by Bill Peak

To the casual visitor, the passage linking the children's wing to the main library must seem pretty insignificant as it threads its way through the area between the Circulation Desk and the library's New Books display. If it weren't for the green lights set into the floor here (I tell children it's Kryptonite glowing up out of the center of the earth), most people probably wouldn't even notice it. But for those of us who work Circulation, this unassuming little stretch of floor is a constant source of interest and amusement.

For one thing, there's that New Books display. At any given time of day you will find a patron or two studying these shelves as one might a wall full of Brueghels at the National Gallery. From the Circulation Desk, of course, all we can see of these patrons is their backs ... still there is a sort of quiet about them, an intensity to the set of their shoulders, the stillness of their heads, that speaks volumes. “Is this the book,” each asks him- or herself, “is this the book that will carry me through the coming days, inform my waking thoughts, send me blissfully off to sleep at night? Is this even, possibly, the book that will change my life, make me a better person than I am today?”

For that casual visitor, the people standing before the library's New Books display must seem little different from any other consumers (you could find a similar group standing before the soup cans at Giant), but for me they are intrepid explorers who, looking out over the great Unknown, hesitate a final moment before taking that first fateful step.

But back to the Kryptonite! Surely one of the best things about this short length of floor is the way the green lights set into its surface prove an irresistible lure to the children of Talbot County. Once they've caught sight of these apparently subterranean lights, most children appear as little more than a blur to those of us working Circulation: a tiny close-cropped head here, a princess outfit there, all of them hurrying as fast as little legs will carry them toward Miss Rosemary's enchanted kingdom. But several times each week a class from one of the local day care centers visits, and under their teacher's watchful eye these children tend to walk in more or less straight lines that permit a closer study. I'm always amazed by the variety. Here are twenty or thirty kids wandering along, all of them almost identical in height and innocence, yet take a closer look, really study each child, and every time you will find something about the tilt of the head, the cast of the eye, that signals individuality. Clearly, despite superficial similarities, each of these children is already a unique human being with his or her own special way of looking at the world.

Which means, in a sense, they are already card-carrying members of the Talbot County Free Library. For, like those patrons standing before the New Books display, these children exemplify what the library was created to serve: individual human beings, each searching out his or her own particular path to personal fulfillment and happiness. And so it is that, like sailors entering their homeport, those of us at the Circulation Desk line its gunwales and welcome the day care children as they file by. We salute them. We salute them for they are the reason we are there.