Small town librarying

hardcover sherlock holmes in spanish with coffee mug in background

After a couple of months of life in Spain, I gathered up courage to visit the local library. Through the park that hosts elderly men in the morning and rebellious teenagers in the afternoon. Down a long hallway lined with local photography. Until I stood in a room full of books.

Unruffled by my presence, the librarian looked at me over a piece of cardboard she was painting. A prop for a children’s program? “Can I help you?” she asked.

There would be no subtle spying out of the library grounds. I was an outsider and expected to state the purpose for my unheralded intrusion. “Uh, I live here now and-and I would like to read m-more books in Spanish.”

“You need proof of residency from city hall and a copy of your residency card.”

I retrieved the documents and filled out the paperwork. Then I selected a book.

The librarian scrawled the due date on a slip of paper inside the front cover of my selection. I admit that even in that small town, one-room library, I was startled by the lack of technology.

The book I had chosen was boring, so I returned it the next week.

“Did you finish it?” the unruffleable librarian asked without glancing up from her new craft project.

Why this sudden sense of guilt? “No.” I cleared my throat.

“Okay. Just leave it there on the desk.” And she continued unruffledly crafting.

A week later I slipped in again, determined to select a more interesting book. This time, the unruffled librarian was in the middle of a sewing class. She barely looked up while I selected Las Memorias de Sherlock Holmes.

She pulled out my file without confirming my name, made a phone call to the main branch—the internet was down, she said—and then picked up a pencil.

I’m sure my eyes widened when she penciled the due date in the corner inside the front cover.

Sherlock Holmes was a better choice, but I still didn’t finish it by the due date. So I attempted my first renewal.

The librarian’s hands were covered in black paint as she was undertaking yet another craft project. “Did you finish it?”

“No. I would like to renew it.”

“No problem. Just bring it back when you finish.”

Assuming she was referring to the due date, I pointed out that the date inside the front cover said tomorrow.

“No, not when it is due. When you finish,” she clarified. She held up a black hand while the other still clutched a dripping paintbrush. “My hands are covered in paint right now. When you finish, bring the book back and I will erase your fine.”

This week, I returned the overdue book. There was a painting project spread across the entire library floor. The librarian’s pre-teen volunteers cleared a skinny path for me between the massive sheets of damp paper. The unruffled librarian continued hot-gluing safety pins to name tags as I selected another book and brought it to her.

Inside the cover of the old book, she jotted down the number of the new book, handed the new book to me, and returned to her gluing. Apparently, she didn’t feel like traversing the skinny path to her desk.

But this time, she was not the only one unruffled. I had grown accustomed to small town library dynamics and was quite unruffled myself.

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