Monday, December 20, 2010

The Work We Love

On this winter solstice I feel the amazing circularity of life. So much changes and old things circle back, seemingly new. This post was written a few weeks ago as I embarked on a short stint as “librarian in residence” at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Interim Librarian -- the old fashioned kind.
Okay, this is one of those opportunities to return to basics, embracing, as the Buddhists say, beginner’s mind. Working this week at the Ghost Ranch Library I had to learn again to stand on my feet for hours “reading” the shelves, focusing on the call numbers so as to catch a displaced stray. I searched for missing volumes, organized the overdues, brought the serials log up to date. When I was tired of that, I found the archival glue and book tape and repaired all the dilapidated Star Wars series in the children’s room. After the first day when I had washed my hands fifty times I walked to the Trading Post to buy a tube of bay leaf bee balm. I had forgotten how dust and paper dry your skin out and, in New Mexico, even more so.

The Ranch was nearly free of guests, but the staff (cooks, farmers, wranglers, maintenance folks, and office workers) use the library a lot. They immediately began singing my praises simply because the place was clean and tidy once again. Anyone could come in and read the Rio Grande Sun and find all three sections of the paper in one spot. It had been a long time since I’d done such simple work and received so much appreciation. I thought this was going to be a breeze, a lovely breeze.

But on day three I got the key to the two back rooms where all the hidden work was waiting. Anyone who has ever worked in a library knows there has to be a rat’s nest where what you don’t have time to do gets stored and often falls into a variety of confusing heaps. This is where an old professional has to get her hands (and knees) really dirty; where she has to bring some order out of chaos. I was tempted to shut the door . The Ranch is going to hire a full time librarian next year. Let the newbie do it.

No. I could at least get a start on this. So I sorted all the gift books, all the books marked vaguely “problem” and threw out catalogs and advertisements long since out of date. I fired up the catalogue computer and read the manual for using Bibliofile, a software made to pull down catalogue records, as we say, and print out cards and labels.

I should tell you right now I didn’t get it all done, but every night as I walked in the dark to my lodging I was tired. I’d done a good day’s work, the kind of work I used to do a long time ago, and could still do, apparently. For being such a way-back week where I had to call upon an accumulation of former skills, I sure felt new. Renewed, I guess the word is.

I’m wishing all of you good work, paid or unpaid, but always satisfying, as we circle into a new year.