Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
Updating the Library
November 27, 1998
The silence is deafening. I feel as thought I should tiptoe through the
building. Even the books have quit talking. Calm has settled over the
library again - with, of course, the exception of the children's room.
That room is always jumping with the 11 and under crowd.
For two months the staff and patrons of the public library's main
building were surrounded by workmen in hard hats making a tremendous
racket with buzz saws, jack hammers and other noise making equipment.
Huge black plastic sheets shut off parts of the building. The ceilings
were removed to reveal naked pipes and vents and various mysterious
things. One of the librarians who is an X-Files fan suggested to one
of the workmen that he leave a message up there for Muldar and Skully
saying, "I believe."
The good news is that now there is fresh air in the building, warm or
cool as needed, and the electrical system has been modernized so
everyone can read in better light. Even with the hope of a new
building in the foreseeable future, the old one had to be upgraded,
since the heating, air conditioning system was comptely beyond repair.
The staff survived with such patience and courtesy, that Friends of
the Library got into the act. They had their second annual book sale
this fall and made enough money to throw a thank you party for the
staff and to give each of them each a polo shirt with the library
logo on it.
My years of working in the library did not include living through a
major repair job, but they did include moving the whole library from its
home on White to the present building on Grand. The first time I was in
the "new" building, except to buy groceries, was one cold winter
morning. It was empty and very cold. We skated on ice that had formed
on the basement floor. Safeway had moved out and the work was just
beginning that would turn a grocery store into a library building.
When it came time to move, we put books into boxes, trucked them a
block, and took books out of boxes. We moved a lot of books.
Fortunately I was younger then.
The building seemed so big then, but just 24 years later it is
bursting at the seams.
Libraries, of course, are more than buildings and books. They are also
the people who make them usable.
There were too many doors in the old building on White. Once we lost a
kid. After story hour one little girl turned up missing and the entire
staff scattered like leaves in the wind to look for her. One of us
finally found her wandering happily a block away. She would be about 30
now. I wonder whether she ever found what she was looking for.
For a while the city's computer department shared the basement of the
old building with the Children's Department. One day the Summer
Reading Party for children was scheduled for the west lawn. That was
the day that the city decided to move its big new computer down the west
stairs between the Children's room, where the punch and cookies were
stashed, and the lawn. Children's librarian Terry Pickens, getting
some early practice in how to be Director, planted her feet in front of
the door and said, "Over my dead body." The city was willing to
oblige, but forced to choose between angry librarian and an angry
computer expert, Director VanCamp wisely decided in favor of the
My most vivid memory of the old building is of a day when I was working
at the desk. A man came in asking for a book on how to feed a pet
snake. I found him his book and instead of quitting while I was ahead,
I commented, "Well, I'm glad you didn't bring your pet in." "Oh, but I
did," said he opening his jacket. Instead of a belt he was wearing a
large, spotted snake. The building cleared faster than it ever had for
a fire alarm and I led the charge.
Quiet has returned to the library - sort of. Copiers and computers and
printers click and hum side by side with reading tables and busy
information desks. But the books still aren't talking, and once
again the library is a haven in a busy world.
And the air is fresh.