January 2013
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Library Peeon

One time I had a job at a library. That’s not actually correct, as the word “job” implies payment, and I was never paid, so . . . one time I volunteered at a library. The library had a program through which people who were unable to visit the library could sign up to have items selected and delivered to them.  Someone else was to do the delivering; my job was the selection.  When I signed up to volunteer, I assumed I would be selecting books for these housebound folks to read, and so I was a little peeved to discover that the program actually revolved around the library’s DVD collection.

“Wait. I’m supposed to select movies for these people? This is a library. Books . . . have these people never heard of books?”

Mr. Dougman, the elderly librarian in charge of the program, explained, “Sometimes reading gets difficult as one gets older. Movies can be soothing.”

“Still. I thought I would be selecting books. I don’t even watch movies, as a general rule. How am I supposed to select movies for these people? Haven’t these people heard of Netflix?”

He handed me what looked like a recipe box, “Just do the best you can.”

I held up the daisy-sticker covered box, “What is this?”

“The woman who ran the program before you kept records. They should make your job easier.”

“Ummm . . . can’t you just print me up a list of all the members of this program and what they have had checked out on their accounts through this service?”

Mr. Dougman was aghast, “That would be a violation of State and Federal Law!”

Vague memories of case-law covering privacy requirements flitted through my head like drunken moths, none of them drawn to the light of my enquiry. What good is law school if librarians know more than you do about law? Annoying. I covered quickly, “Of course it would be. I knew that.”

Still, something didn’t make sense, “OK, but if it’s against the law to keep records of their library usage, what exactly is in this box?”

He held up a librarian finger to his lips, “Shhhhh.”

Alrighty then.

I found an empty carrel and studied the contents of the small box. Two things became immediately apparent. First, there were only five people currently making use of this program. Second, the woman who had been keeping records of her selections for these folks had been well and truly insane.

The woman, whose name was not Erin, had used what appeared to be a color-coded system without a discernible key. Same-day entries were made in red and green and blue and black, with no indication of why she had bothered to change color ink. Additionally, there were marks beside some of the movie titles, as though not-Erin had tried to keep track of which movies had been particularly well (or poorly) received — there were stars and hearts and lightning bolts and what appeared to be tiny scrawled drawings of farm animals. Everything was captured on index cards, and there seemed to have come a point when not-Erin had been informed the world was running short on index cards, because later cards were simply covered in ink, with entries running vertically up the sides of the cards in tiny squashed cursive.

Even so, after examining four of the individually rubber-banded collections of index cards, I had enough information to make initial selections for these people, each of whom desired only one or two movies per week.

Roger liked anything war-related.

Petunia liked romances and old black & white films.

Sable liked comedies without black people in them (there was a note to this effect at the top of the first card).

Andrew liked a wide variety of movies, but had recently started on a long series of nature specials, and so selections for him at the moment were as simple as the next in the series.

I turned to the last and largest by far of the rubber-banded bundles. Perhaps 50 cards, scrawled front and back with multi-colored indecipherable drawings and tiny cursive writing overwritten upon itself sometimes three or four times . . . a summary of the viewing habits of a man named Edgar. I spread the cards across the tabletop and stared at them. The only thing I was able to glean from their indexed madness was that Edgar apparently checked out ten movies a week and had been checking out ten movies a week for almost five years.

Oh and also the suggestion from not-Erin in purple-markered letters across the entirety of one index card that one might want to SHAKE SNOWGLOBE FOR SHITSTORM!


I flipped through the cards . . . ten movies a week was 520 movies a year times five years equals more than 2500 movies checked out to Edgar.

I was pretty sure that was about the number of DVDs in the entire library collection, so I decided not to worry too much about Edgar. He obviously didn’t care too much about what was selected for him. He was more about quantity than quality.

I headed off into the DVD stacks. Roger, Petunia, and Andrew were simple. Sable was slightly more difficult, as it turned out DVD boxes did not generally indicate whether a show was safe for racist-viewing. I hit on the solution of sending her old TV-episode collections of The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy, confident those were safe bets.

And then Edgar . . . I thought for a second and then just walked down the aisle and randomly pulled ten DVDs from the shelves. Done.

I wrote a short note to each of them, indicating that I had taken over for not-Erin, and asking them to be in touch if they had any thoughts concerning the DVDs I had selected for them.

And then I went home, pleased to have done my small voluntary part to make the world a better place.

When I returned the following week, the librarian handed me the recipe box, a small pink envelope, and a folded piece of paper.

I put the recipe box back down on his desk, “Is not-Erin around? Might I speak with her about the records she kept?”

He shook his head, “I’m afraid not. A sad story I am not at liberty to tell, but I don’t think we will be seeing her again.”

“Yes, well . . . have you looked in this box? Better I start from scratch, I think.”

He nodded sadly, “I understand. Not-Erin had her own ways of doing things.” He tucked the box into a drawer in his desk.

I opened the small pink envelope, which contained a happy note of welcome and gratitude from Sable as well as a smaller pink envelope addressed to Mr. Dougman. I handed the sealed envelope to him, “I’m pretty sure she wants to ask you if I am black.”

He cleared his throat to hide what might have been a giggle.

I then unfolded the piece of paper, which was a note from Edgar that read in its entirety:

Library Peeon – What kind of a name is Kris? You a woman or a queer? I served in the war and I ain’t got time for this bullshit. What you sent me this week ain’t worth a dog’s ass. Get it right. E. Bosen

Peeon?  I looked up at Mr. Dougman, who had clearly already read the note, because he shook his head and apologized, “Mr. Bosen presents some difficulties, as you can see.”

I flapped Edgar’s note in the air as I thought for a moment, “Not a problem. I’m sure Edgar and I are going to be great friends.”

The librarian sighed with relief, “Good.”

I tapped my fingers on the desktop, “Hey, I saw this movie on the shelves last week . . . a documentary about gay and lesbian drag-ball culture in 1980’s New York . . . don’t suppose you know the title?”

Paris is Burning,” he answered without hesitation, and then he looked at me curiously, “Why?”

I stood to go, “No reason.” I pointed at the tiny pink envelope he had left unopened on his desk, “As for Sable? Just tell her I’m passing as white.”

I grew to like Mr. Dougman’s giggle quite a bit.

    79 comments to Library Peeon

    • All these years later, the memory of fighting with Edgar via weekly written notes makes me giggle.



    • Jessica

      I’ve always wanted to work at a library- it’s calming to organize things that are not mine. But I want to get paid to do it, and I don’t want to get a special degree, so.

      Edgar. Good name. Did you save the notes???

      • Sadly, I did not save the notes, although I wrote to someone in an email at the time of that first hilarious note, which is why I have the wording exactly.


        I could always make shit up . . . I remember the gist of our arguments, if not the precise language.

        I may just do that sometime.

        I’m sure Edgar wouldn’t mind.

        Shut up, Edgar.

    • I’m so sure I would have loved picking movies for Edgar. And chuckling to myself regularly.

      • I drove the poor man MAD.

        He eventually demanded I be fired, which made me laugh until I cried.

        And then I pretended to be a more compliant library worker named Isabel for a bit.

        I so did.

        It was awesome.

    • If they read books their lives would be better. What would you have sent to Edgar?

    • Oh I needed this giggly goodness today!

      Not-Erin was really Erin, right?

      And I would have messed with Edgar, weekly.

      I so would have.

      Hee hee!

    • And apparently I am stuttering in your comments today.

      Excuse me whilst I run amuck.

    • Tammy Proctor

      This made me giggle. And that is good. @Stasha might I run amuck with you for awhile?

    • For a while I thought you were setting up a gloriously complicated logic puzzle for which I was preparing to draw a diagram. Poor psychotic not-Erin. I wonder what Edgar did to her.

      I shall shake my snowglobe post haste.

      • OK, a secret? I went back at a later time and spent some real actual time trying to figure out Not-Erin’s system.

        Which appeared, in the end, to be schizophrenic in nature.

        And so while I was able to recognize the language?

        The meaning escaped me.


    • I am all giggles for an entirely unrelated reason.

      I used to have a snowglobe that was Halloween-themed, with a quirky little ginger witch in the globe. The “snow,” presumably for Halloween, was black instead of white.

      Mark, in our early days, picked it up and shook it. He turned to me and said, “What’s cute about a witch in a shitstorm?”

      I might have decided to marry him at that exact moment.

    • I worked at our local library for a while through high school; since I did not have a degree, I was not entrusted with the computer, and checking books out – I just reach elves the returned materials. My position was called “page.”

      Talk about feeling insignificant – I was a page in a library!

    • Amy


      I almost became a peeon just then .. I must remember to empty bladder before reading your posts :)

      • Hee hee!

        Not always.

        Just sometimes.

        Although in my experience, it’s always better to pee when you have the chance.



        • Better to be peed on. . .

          Wait . . . What?

          • There is a line in a song Kallan had been singing about thrift-stores.

            Seriously, like a song from the radio. Hold on. Let me find the lyric.

            • OH MY GOD . . so much inappropriateness in that song of thrifty purchases.

              The relevant line is this: “Draped in a leopard mink, girls standin’ next to me
              Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R. Kelly’s sheets.”

              Because pee . . . get it?

              I have to go talk to Kallan about this song.

              • It’s by Macklemore, by the way.

                Thrift Shop.

                YouTube it.

              • Yes.

                That’s Macklemore.

                That song is something else.

                  • "OG" Axel

                    Gotta pop ‘em tags…


                    Our girls sing that song, just the clean/radio version (around us).

                    I’ve picked up a few things at the thrift shop- signed 1st edition books… nice autographed hockey jersey. Not quite what was meant in the song I suppose.

                    • Kallan’s been singing the radio version, except when I asked her about it, she tells me she and her friends know all the words to the unclean version as well.


                      Both of our girls actually really like thrift shops, as Mark and I make them spend their own money on any clothing beyond basic school items.

                      That song is something else.

                      Hee hee.

    • Ben

      Ohh I loved the descriptions of NotErin’s index system! “there were stars and hearts and lightning bolts and what appeared to be tiny scrawled drawings of farm animals” – Awesome! And the part about the world running short of index cards. And the line “Sable was slightly more difficult, as it turned out DVD boxes did not generally indicate whether a show was safe for racist-viewing” made me almost fall off my chair.



    • Ben

      Also, I think “Shake Snowglobe for shitstorm” would have been a great title for today’s post!

      • I know, right? But two things . . .

        First? I try not to swear in my post titles. Seriously.

        And second? It’s too long a title . . . when viewed on a regular computer (as opposed to a phone or iPad, which have different presentations), my titles are confined to a box on the left side of the blog. Too long and they run to a second line, which I hate, as it then appears there are two separate posts — one titled Shake Snowglobe for and the other called Shitstorm. There have only been a very few titles I have allowed to run onto that second line.

        And no, that’s not weird of me.


    • Did I run amuck enough for you?

      Or do you want more amuckness?


    • Mishelle

      Wow… one baby filled thursday and I miss 2 posts? Cool!

      Maybe I should mention my name used to be Erin… just joking but her organization system makes me laugh. They do that kind of thing in library books down here, I’m told it’s how people tell that they’ve read but I’m always curious to know how they got the symbols.