Opinion: Working as a page at Ilsley Library


Every Thursday afternoon I get off the bus after a long and tiring day at school and walk the short way to Ilsley Public Library. From the outside, the huge marble building can look intimidating, but I’ve grown up jumping up and down and getting stuck in the old creaky elevator, playing in the stuffed-animal-filled bathtub, and running through the stacks of plastic wrapped books. When I was little, my mom would take me to the library at least twice a week to pick out books, but as I grew up my time spent there became less and less. Until now. 

Now, I pull open the heavy door and walk down the short flight of steps to the children’s room. As I walk quickly in, I catch sight of Lynn at the front desk, wave, and say, “Hi!” Lyn will always say, “Hello, Fiona,” in a kind voice. I’ll drop my backpack in the room behind the desk. Sometimes Lynn will tell me she’s baked cookies or made maple pecans and hand me some in a jar or bag, and I’ll eat them happily in the back room before heading out. The brown metal cart will be stacked full of books, and I’ll get to work, filling my arms and heading out into the shelves. I’ll shelve books in the children’s room of the library for the next hour.

The job is relatively easy; all you need to know is how to count and the alphabet. (I frequently start singing the alphabet song in my head to remember which letters come first.) I’ll walk quickly through the large room with the books in my arms. It is usually quiet, save for small pockets of time when children just out of school come in with their parents, run around for a few minutes, and then leave. It is quiet enough to hear my own thoughts if I want to hear them — something rare in my busy days — with enough thinking required that I can just focus on what I’m doing if I want to. 

My favorite times are when there are books packed together much too tightly on a shelf for me to slip a new book in, requiring me to rearrange all the books on the shelf. Sometimes this takes a while, but when I finish, slipping the book that needed to be shelved onto the shelf where there is now ample room, and sit back on my heels to look at the rearranged shelves, I feel satisfied and proud of myself. If I finish all the shelving for the day Lynn will suggest a fun task that I can do, like making displays of books for the youth and teen rooms or shelving the new teen books. 

I love going to the library for just an hour after school: a tiny, quiet sanctuary from the world. When my hour is up, I’ll gather my bags. Lynn will say, “Thank you, Fiona! Have a good night!” I’ll wish her a good night, too, and then walk up into the cool night air. 


This is a companion piece to Dana Hart’s Building the Library of the Future column this week.

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