by Gina Sestak
The title of my first college job was "Page." That was fitting, because I worked in a library. While most of the pages were compressed between the covers of the books, I got to roam around.
Working in a library is a great resource for a writer. You are surrounded by so much information. I found all kinds of things, including books on the origin of swear words, spells to invoke demons, and a collection of letters home written by 16th Century colonists in Georgia, among others. I spent my time reshelving books, working the check-out/return desk, and -- when no one in authority was watching -- catching a few minutes to read whatever looked interesting.
I found most of these interesting reads while reschelving books. Hillman Library didn't trust students to return books to their proper places in the stacks. Instead, there were book return areas where books would pile up. I would collect these books on a small cart, arrange them in order, and return them to the shelves. Sometimes, I worked the front desk, checking out books and checking in the ones that had been returned.
It was an interesting time to work the check-out desk. In my two-semester tenure, the library converted from a manual to a computerized check out system. First, let me describe the manual system:
Every book had a little pocket inside the front cover in which there was a card. When the book was checked out, this card received a color-coded plastic sleeve and was placed in a large flat bin with thousands of similar cards, in order. The color of the plastic cover indicated when the book was due. Once the due date passed, the over-due book cards could be pulled and threatening letters sent to the borrowers.
When the library computerized, the little cards were replaced with longer cards of strong paper. Like most computer fodder in those pre-online days, the cards were standard IBM-card size and had been hole-punched to identify the book. To check out a book, the borrower would take it to the desk where a staff person would feed the punched card into a computer the size of a small refrigerator, along with the borrowers student ID. The computer would read the card and ID, then spit them back out. The staff person would put the card back into the pocket in the book and the computer would periodically issue print-outs listing all of the books, who had them, and when they were due. From there the work was still mostly manual.
One of my more fun duties was climbing out onto a balcony beside the staircase to water a few plants. This wasn't really very dangerous, but I pretended that it was. I led a dull and boring life.
What did I learn from this job?
I learned the Library of Congress cataloguing system. I learned to savor the smell and texture of old books. I learned the origin of the "f" word. And I had a lot of fun.