Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Library Stocked with Disappointment

I had been to the Canyon Country library before last Saturday; two or three times.

When Dad went there on the way home to give work and collect it from one or two students who couldn't attend La Mesa for a time for whatever reason, I, tired from spending the day as a substitute campus supervisor, would wander and then stop in front of rows of shelves containing books of essays and books of plays. I would beam at the back wall full of shelves of novels, wanting to eat it all. I would look for names I never heard of and see if I'd want to know them and their chapters and their characters and their views of the world.

Because the library in Valencia closed on December 7 for two months for renovations (more computers, a dedicated teen area, new furniture), and because the three other libraries in the Santa Clarita Valley, including Canyon Country, are closed on Sunday (Valencia was the only one open from 1-5 p.m.), I have to go to the Canyon Country library on Saturdays, which, as it turns out, is not such a jarring change. Granted, it was a little strange not having to access the library website during Saturday Night Live at 12:30 a.m. to renew books and see what I need to return in order to pick up the books I have on hold, but I really enjoyed today. I got up and it felt so much more easygoing. I still have that book project sitting heavily on me, but I didn't feel it as acutely as on past Sundays, when we'd go to the Valencia library towards 3 p.m. (mainly because I sleep late well into the day, and because Sunday has always been a laid-back day for the rest of the family), attend to other errands, go to Ralph's to either shop fully or just pick up a few items, and likely get home a little before or a little after 7 p.m. The pressure would build as soon as I got home. I'd be too aware that I had to put together yet another Freelance Daily newsletter (compiling three days of job listings from Craigslist and other websites for the freelance writer subscribers), and while working on the newsletter, my mind would be nagging me about the essays I still had to write, about the books I still had to read, which are now down to one, a biography on Carole Landis.

That's the only thing that I really like about going to the Canyon Country library on Saturdays: To feel at ease even with an enormous workload. Sunday now feels like the kind of day where I could jump into the air and float, if it were possible. I could walk above the couch and play limbo with the top of the doorframe leading into the kitchen, and amble across the neighborhood pool just over the left patio wall, looking down and smiling at the view.

The library itself doesn't give the same pleasure. Spending only a few minutes there, there are no problems. One of the times I was with Dad, I found a few plays I wanted to check out, borrowed his card (mine was naturally full), and used the self-checkout computer. This branch has four of them, and I can see why. Those clerks who have to work the front desk wish they didn't have to. They don't like to work, they're not helpful, and they don't look beyond the obvious places.

I returned 12 books in order to pick up the books I had on hold (the limit is 50 items). I found 10 of them, checked them out myself, and went to one of the only computers that are solely for the library catalog. I had 48 books checked out (owing to instances where I may not be interested in one or more of the books after I start reading them, but mainly because I really, really, really love books), and thought I had miscalculated again, even though I was certain I had correctly counted 12 books in my bag. There was one I apparently hadn't picked up, and I went to the front desk to see where it was. This girl, who must have been 18 or 19 or 20, maybe even 21, didn't care about helping anyone. It was obvious. I said straight out that I had a book on hold that wasn't on any of the hold shelves, and that it wasn't Oliver Twist, as that was also available to pick up, but I wasn't ready to pick it up that Saturday (I'll pick it up next Saturday). She kept asking if it was Oliver Twist I wanted to pick up, and I kept saying that it was a different book, finally showing her the title within the pages of my account that I printed out from home. She looked at my account after scanning my card, and went to the hold shelves, even though I had already been there and hadn't found the book. She came back, telling me exactly what I had told her: The book wasn't there. She then explained that she couldn't do anything else, and to call back in a few days to see if they had located the book, because the books on the carts near her were the only other holds to be put on those shelves. There was nothing in the backroom.

Big help. I put my card back in my wallet, thanked her, even though I didn't mean it, and I went to the table Mom and Dad were sitting at, Mom not at all pleased with this library and for good reason, with many pushy people there, and other people of uncertain character. If a bag was left on a table, they might look inside and take whatever attracted them. I only realized this after I came back a second time and Mom told me she moved my bag next to her for that reason, as there were some people sitting behind her and Dad who looked like they had that exact idea.

That second time out on the library floor, I decided to look again at the hold shelves to see if the front-desk paperweight had truly not found the book. She hadn't, and as it turned out, neither did I. I honestly didn't think to look above the first shelf when I picked up the other books. Two of the books I intended on checking out were sitting there, and I realized that they'd probably also put future holds of mine there, as there hadn't been room on the first shelf with my other holds. But the girl couldn't see above the first shelf? I don't expect anyone to fake enthusiasm they don't have. If a waitress at, say, Red Robin, is having an off day, I don't mind there not being a smile, as long as the order is correct and the bad day doesn't splatter on me. But at least that waitress would be doing her job, just like I expected that girl to do her job. That's what she's there for. She should do it and be dissatisfied about her life later. How hard is it to look above that first shelf? I have a good excuse in that this was my first time picking up any holds from this branch. I didn't know right away. The reference desk was no better when I asked for specific directions to the Newhall library for Mom. Same attitude there. So much resentment in the building that you could choke from the fumes. Even the books feel it. They look so depressed, including my favored back wall. There's one librarian who shelves the books wearing red gloves. I understand the hullabaloo over the swine flu and am all for assuring one's safety in health, but I don't wear gloves when I look at the books. What has traumatized her so about them?

My sister had an excellent suggestion earlier this evening for next Saturday because of the family plan to see what the Newhall library is like: Go inside, pick up the books on hold, and leave. Don't linger any longer than necessary.

I agree. I can't spend as much time in that library as I can in Valencia's. If we aren't halfway out of California to Las Vegas by February 1 when the Valencia library reopens (meaning that no one's called Dad yet, offering him a job, or we're not yet in the process of planning that move to Vegas, or in Las Vegas looking at houses), I'm going to kiss the floor at its entrance. I'm not going to be so annoyed by those librarians who take too long to check in items, or those who don't understand what I'm looking for (I'm not vague in asking for what I need. I always want my books quickly). At least they're doing their jobs. At least they're efficient, even when I get that one librarian who doesn't understand that I already looked in my box of holds for that book and it's not in there, and actually goes to the box under the counter nearest to the self-checkout computer to look. I miss her, I miss them, I miss books that look like they're living a good life on those shelves.


  1. Our library was just rebuilt. And is now a structure that's a pleasure just to be in...let alone all the wonderful stories on the shelves I've yet to experience.

    What's even nicer is that is walking distance from my home. So my daughter and I go and peruse the shelves regularly.

    It's nice to have a place like that.

  2. For a year after my family and I moved to Southern California, we lived in an apartment in Valencia, where everything is active. There is a pulse to that part of the valley.

    From that apartment, the Valencia library was only half an hour away in footsteps.

    I miss that. In the car from Saugus to there for the past five years has not been the same.

    One thing I plan to mention in my next entry, albeit briefly, is that we drove to the Newhall library tonight just to see exactly where it is. Didn't go in, but it's even more squished than the Canyon Country library. Those poor books, trying so hard to breathe while pressed against their across-the-shelf neighbors. I imagine the shelves must be like that in order to fit into that obviously Wayne Szalinski-created building.

    The novels at your library: What are those shelves like?