Saturday, July 18, 2009

Unsuspected Influence


It came home to me this week, once again, just how important the library may be to some folk. We may never know it. It might be revealed by a chance remark at checkout. Sometimes it's evident by a direct encounter.

I started my KRL life at the Manchester branch with a dual position (Page and Library Assistant). I loved it. Within weeks I knew the regular visitors. We were busy but there was always time to share a few personal bits of news - weddings, travel plans, freshly-minted grandbabies, milestones achieved. Sometimes the news was tougher - disappointments, illnesses, jobs lost. It was clear that this small library branch was the center of the community, a sort of Cheers Bar, if you will, where "everybody knows your name."

When the opportunity arose to work full-time at the Port Orchard branch, I had to really think about it. Yes, a larger branch would offer some wonderful challenges and probably be great fun, but would I lose the connection to the community in the process? Could I still know the patrons?

It turned out that yes, I could connect with patrons and get to know them, even in a large branch. It just looked a little different. After all, it was still absolutely possible to welcome them with a smile and let them know I was happy to see them. And, eventually, the little bits of news began to surface. There wasn't time for the extended chat, but I could still affirm the good news and commiserate with the bad. (It's pretty cool what a heartfelt "I'm so sorry" can do for someone when they share a rough bit of personal news.)

I'd worked at Port Orchard for about a year when one of our regulars came through the door and went straight to the checkout line. After she approached the desk, she stood there for a moment, just looking at me, then said, "I've just come from the doctor. He told me I have untreatable lung cancer. I didn't know where to go after I left his office. Then I thought of the library. I feel so safe here that it seemed the best place to be to think about this. I haven't even told my family yet."

Wow.

It was a huge Heart Of The Community moment and I was glad to have contributed to that feeling of safety. Library = refuge, sometimes.

So. To get to the point of this posting, there have been similar, though not quite so dramatic, instances over the last seven years. The most recent one was a few days ago, while I was on-desk in the Children's Cove. A young girl, probably no older than eight, sidled up to the desk after browsing the books. She just wanted to chat, shyly holding one of the puppets as she talked with me. After a few moments, she looked directly at me and said, "My mom and dad just got a divorce." She looked back at the puppet and added, "It's really hard."

Oh my. Saying "I'm so sorry, sweetie" seemed, I don't know, kind of lame. Not very helpful for a young child. I said it anyway and she knew I meant it. We talked a little more, about moms and dads who say bad things about each other. About how important it is to remember that both of them love their children - they're just mad at each other right now. And yes, it's pretty tough to be in the middle of it when you care about both of them, but you don't have to take sides if you don't want to.

A lot of people came into the Cove right about then and our conversation ended. As library staff, we just don't know how important our attitudes and responses are, how they can affect somebody for good or ill. A sincere and welcoming smile can do so much. I hope her visit to the library helped a little bit, beyond her hunt for the next Summer Reading book.

Next time: Overheard on Twitter. So many funny people. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Thaydra said...

How great that you were back there for her to reach out to that day. It's true that we ARE one of those places that people seek out for comfort and refuge. A haven in which to explore, discover, or just escape. For those people both big and small.

I'm glad you posted this. It will help me while I'm up at the desk chatting with people. I'm not good with remembering people, thier names or thier situations, but just having a genuine smile on our faces and a welcoming "Hello, how are you?" can mean the world to someone's day. Inside AND outside of the Library! :)