I often wonder why all librarians, regardless of their sex, appear so grim? Wouldn’t you think that beneficiaries of possibly the best job in the world, who have access to a wealth of knowledge, should have amiable countenances? But that’s not the case. To cast someone as Charon — the ferryman who carries the souls of the dead to the other world — a casting director only has to find a librarian.
Step into a library, and you are greeted with a “why have you come here?” look by a perpetually dour librarian. Instead of being drawn by a welcoming ambience and the attractive smell of books, you are made uncomfortable by the hostile vibes of the librarian.
As you go to browse the shelves, you constantly feel conscious of the librarian’s penetrating gaze following you with such suspicion. So, after finding the relevant book you saunter to the librarian’s desk and put across the book with trepidation. “Eh, one of the pages is missing,” says the manager in a steely voice, while you shuffle your feet in discomfort. “Please, take another copy.” You promptly follow instructions, while once more being painfully aware of the librarian’s scrutiny.
If you have, by any chance, not experienced the horror of dealing with a typical librarian, then count yourself as one of the lucky ones. I have yet to come across a kind librarian in all my 20-something years on the planet. And despite my discomfort in dealing with these grave creatures, I still cannot help frequenting libraries. Since I don’t have a Kindle (or an e-reader or whatever you call it), I have to mainly rely on bookstores and libraries to replenish my supply of books.
I have been avidly visiting libraries managed by unpleasant librarians since childhood. I confess that I am a total book worm. In fact, I chose to go to a particular college because of its splendid library. During my childhood, I had the privilege of attending a school with a magnificent library. In fact many of the students at that school, including me, even had membership of other libraries. Perhaps the access to more books gave us a vague sense of entitlement in those days. But another reason for frequenting libraries outside school was that there were racier books available there. But did we read those raunchy books? Not really. Most of us were a bit turned off by their paperback covers which completely gave away the contents of the story. But many of us were just too weak-hearted to take those books to the loans desk; uncertain of the kind of reaction it would evoke from the librarian.
On Fridays, our school permitted students to take home ‘novels’ — some Victorian tradition of the catholic institution. On those occasions, stern-faced librarians mocked students, who were more interested in fiction, for only showing up at the library on Fridays. The librarian’s sour remarks would make the children’s shoulders sag sheepishly, as they eagerly waited in a queue to borrow the novels.
Since childhood, I’ve been perennially coming across archetypal library managers — austere, grim and bossy. But if I were a librarian, would I have the sense of ownership of all the books? Would I sulk when someone arrived to borrow a book? Would I view everyone arriving at the doorsteps as potential book stealers? I guess not.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2011.