A Broken Wall of Books, Imperfectly Shelved

Title:  Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus.  Image:  London, Terry Pratchett BookBench.

“I looked hard at the image of me, at that darkening of the glass, and then my gaze pushed through it, over the cool floor, to a broken wall of books, imperfectly shelved.”

Let me begin by saying that, per usual, this post is satire.  I’m going to be joking about libraries, something I actually take seriously.  To balance this post (and because I think it’s a truly wonderful book), I’m going to recommend Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (a memoir), which discusses, eloquently but simply, the crucial importance libraries have had in her life.  I’m also going to mention a truly excellent novel, The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai, which is a perfectly realistic (and very funny) book that still manages to convey the idea that librarians are actually superheroes and that libraries are pretty much magic.

You may read the post when you have completed the reading on the syllabus and finished your 5-7 page essays.  [1]

Ground Rules:  Libraries, an Overview

Sir Pterry:

  1. Silence
  2. Books must be returned no later than the last date shown
  3. Do not meddle with the nature of causality.

Note that The Librarian will break/bend 1 and 3, but never 2.  So, if you know who you are and have had my copy of Readme since 2011/12, you could maybe consider that three years is kind of pushing the due date?

Just had to bring that up.  Again.  This individual knows who he is.

Spotted recently at flea market.

Spotted recently at flea market:  mugshot.  YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, BOOK THIEF.


(I only recently found out that “FTW” apparently does NOT mean what it once did.  I’ve probably been sending some confusing text messages.  One site helpfully notes that my previously-intended meaning “has dramatically faded in use in the 21st century.”  THANKS.)

I think I probably had an ideal LEGO childhood:  some nearby neighbors had children somewhat older than us, and that, in the fashion of the time, had resulted in a massive LEGO collection.  This was when it was mostly just loose, random LEGOs, not really sets and kits:  little teeny-tiny colorful bricks.  My brother and I inherited this splendor, and many things were created (and many bricks were embedded in feet and inhaled by the vacuum, but So It Goes).

This is the type of LEGOs I'm trying to describe:  not a set, generic, perfect for building absolutely anything.

This is the type of LEGOs I’m trying to describe: not a set, generic, perfect for building absolutely anything.

I do realize the above ad has been pretty ubiquitous as of late, but rightly so.  At any rate, that IS what they looked like.  For that matter, I also wore overalls a great deal of the time during that period.  I’m kind of suspicious that gender-neutral LEGOs and overalls caused any lasting damage, but I’m willing to volunteer for a scientific study if anyone would like to try to prove it.  And I also played with Micro Machines.  [hushed gasps]

Oh, and Barbies, but, admittedly, mine were kind of twisted.  Twisted pretty much meaning serial killers tending toward sociopathic.

This is an actual artist's work.  Sadly, not mine.

This is an actual artist’s work. Sadly, not mine.

If any of you readers have children who would like to be shown how to make a DIY Barbie body cast using supplies in your own home . . .

I digress.  As usual.

I enjoy the LEGO ideas site, where people get to propose potential LEGO sets.  If you’re not familiar with it, the design is posted, along with detailed pictures and (usually) a lengthy description.  If it attains the necessary number of backers, it will be reviewed to become an actual sold-in-stores LEGO set.  It’s sort of an imaginary toy store.

I’ve been eying the “Modular Library” submission, a 1920s Baroque building intended to fit with other modular building sets.

(“People with no upper-body strength, who read poetry. These are my people.”  —How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran)

But would I be me if I didn’t have two (plus) cents to add?  Of course not!  I’m pretty sure these are not the sort of suggestions they’re soliciting on the site, so . . .


Modular Library-- exterior

Modular Library– exterior

I could talk about the mix of styles popular in that era, compare and contrast with the six common Carnegie library plans, etc., but who’s here for library school?

Not me, sailor.

Let’s dissect. I’ll start with the bike.  I don’t see a chain there.  That sucker is going to get stolen as soon as white-shirt dude blinks.  Ideally, there should be a lurker around the corner watching out for unattended bikes.  [2]

The skateboard person should be causing a disruption.  And why is (s)he even outside?  Is there a hard surface hall in that building?  That’s where they should be.  Right in front of the “NO SKATEBOARDS” sign would be perfect.  Don’t forget to scuff the floor!

I’m not sure how to covey this idea, but it should be clear that the person with the briefcase intends to run a business out of the library (needless to say, in violation of policy).  Suggestions for locating this guy:  at circ desk, demanding to use phone, or in a study carrel, with cell phone (generating multiple complaints and exceeding time limits for said carrel).  Bonus if you can figure out a way to indicate that he’s complaining about the wi-fi speed and/or Internet restrictions.

The woman carrying a satchel has stolen books.  At least one of the following should be peeking out:  anything by Zane, Confessions of a Video Vixen, something about the occult, or The Heroin Diaries.

Wimborne Minster: the chained library (1686):  no doubt contains then-current equivalents of the above

Wimborne Minster: the chained library (1686): no doubt contains then-current equivalents of the above

Apply graffiti and disrupt removable/breakable fixtures as necessary.  Oh, and that other guy should feel free to fall and threaten a lawsuit.

Taken at a remote gas station several years ago,

Taken at a remote gas station several years ago,  I posted it on Twitter some time later; within minutes, someone (a person? an entity? It wasn’t clear) attacked me with “informative” 140-character capsules intended to educate me about objectivism.  Then the questions got really weird:  what type of pen was used to write this?  (I didn’t write it.)  John Galt is on Twitter, and he is watching.

Some Exterior Details


Front door detail

There’s the thief again.  But on to front doors.  These should really be papered with signage in mega-fonts about Really, Seriously Important Stuff You Need to Know.  Say, hours.  The printer is broken, no, seriously, we’re not kidding, and we can’t print whatever it is, because, like we said, the printer is broken.  Internet is down, and no, there is no Internet, because it’s down.  Etc.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign . . .

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign . . .

Signs are actually decorative.  No one reads them.  They are beneficial for employees, however, as they are easy to point at while banging one’s head repeatedly on the desk.

See:  9 Very Specific Rules from Real Libraries (signs).  Fact:  no one ever read these signs before they appeared in this Mental Floss article.

Skylight detail

Skylight detail

Okay, not much to say here.  I was briefly in a library buildings-related course (until I figured out that a) I needed to drop one course that semester and b) oops, I was actually taking one more course than was required for the degree in the first place), but I’m pretty sure that the thesis was if you design a library with a skylight, you get what you deserve.



Just no.

It is at this point where I do question whether or not the designer has been in a library.  I see a lone user with a computer and what may be a book.

I do not see:  porn, YouTube, the hand-waving thing directed at the circ staff, any attempt to shield the screen, contraband beverages, the general appearance of attempting to colonize the space, seriously questionable images that are debatably porn, or a screen full of error messages.

I’m not sure why a book would be involved.  Or why the computer appears to be a Apple II (possibly a Commodore?).  Or why the computer is located in close proximity to the shelves.


Is this a joke?

Admittedly, at first the confusion here was my fault:  I thought this was supposed to represent a second computer user.  After looking again, I’m thinking maybe it’s a reference desk?

So:  why is the reference guy old and balding?  I call stereotype.  Old, decrepit librarian alert!  (“. . . when I returned from my summer vacation I would be put in charge of the Reference Room, a position that had been empty ever since that morning when Martha Winney had fallen off a high stool in the Encyclopedia Room and shattered all those frail bones . . . .”  —okay, if this is actually some sort of Roth homage, I’m way too tired/dull-minded to figure it out.)

Nancy Perl Action Figure (Deluxe).  All libraries are required to have one.  Please note that nothing, including acts of God, will keep any component of this set standing upright.

Nancy Pearl Action Figure (Deluxe). All libraries are required to have one. Please note that nothing, including acts of God, will keep any component of this set standing upright.

But I do notice he gets a decidedly Mac-looking laptop, whereas the patron has the Commodore.  Not sure what’s up with that (but somebody, probably the lady with the green book, will be remarking about where her tax dollars are going).

“My tax dollars pay your salary!” (via librarianproblems)

The green book appears to have a bottle of ketchup on it.  I’m therefore titling this reference volume Presidential Fact Book 1980-1988, V. 3:  Ketchup and Other Vegetables.  [3]

The brown thing center-right– stool?  chair?  I’m not really sure.  I think maybe it’s a luxe brown leather Pottery Barn kiddie chair (I feel sure they make those).

If that is indeed a reference section, that’s where employees go to weed ruthlessly and talk about the cost of electronic databases.

Water Fountains


That looks like a bidet, says the potty-minded one.

Before I start rambling about the bidet/fountain, is that Princess Leia?  Hair + white top.  Compare:


Just looking for a water fountain. Or bidet. No preference, really.

The official description calls it a water fountain, so we’ll go with that.  So, first things first:  there’s no gum in it.  It is a Major Library Rule that all fountains must be inoperative for some reason, and gum is a chief culprit.

Does anybody else remember this?  I don't remember the official Ghostbusters one, but there was definitely a knockoff.  Anyone?

Does anybody else remember this? I don’t remember the official Ghostbusters one, but there was definitely a knockoff. Anyone?

Another little-known fact is that water fountains are only available to public libraries through practical-joke companies.  This is why they’re ideal for a cold shower (of course, you could just bathe in the bathroom like most people, but that’s another story).  Getting blasted directly in the face with subfreezing water is another favorite trick, with is sort of a Gwyneth Paltrow GOOP-sounding tip, come to think of it.  [4]

Please stay tuned for my upcoming bestseller:  The Public Library Water Fountain Cleanse.

There are also books next to the water fountain.  I have no clue.

Bond.  James Bond.



This image actually has no label or explanation.

What you’re seeing here is the elusive library employee sneaking in the back door.  I believe it is a cataloguser bibliotheca (gimme a break; I never had Latin; ataloger-cay?).

Seldom spotted, this creature often remains huddled at a desk, whose principal features are the following:

  • caffeine potables
  • all-purpose cardigan, perhaps made of Kevlar– actually a cape!
  • cat hair.  duh.
  • various reference manuals, probably tear stained (particularly applicable post-RDA)
  • backlog
  • shattered pieces of sanity
Real World, Library

Real World, Library

Diet Coke cans highly underrepresented here; must have been post-recycling haul.  Post–Its causing twitching.  Time sheet is most definitely not filled out correctly/entirely (shout out to the business office).  Two Dewey manuals = 2x the power.

You can only see the cataloger if you are Pure of Spirit.

You can only see the cataloger if you are Pure of Spirit.  Verily, she is a unicorn.

Patient warnings:  Muttering and cursing to be expected (again, particularly post-RDA).  The twitching eyelid thing is probably actually a tribute to the Coca-Cola company, Flying Spaghetti Monster bless it.  Either that or the label printer is doing THAT THING.  Should cataloger suffer mental collapse, it’s not you or the library– it’s her.  And if any of you are reading this, she still thinks you’re all pretty great.

Other Suggested Additions

This is for any workplace, really.  Picture circa 1950s.

Apparently from Time?  America, why is your emotional life run by Time Magazine?  Why are your libraries full of tears?  ANSWER:  whiskey shortage.

Apparently from Time? Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?  Why are your libraries full of tears? [here] ANSWER: whiskey shortage.

C’est tout.


The Meta Portion  [5]

[1]  Times New Roman, double-spaced, MLA.  Do not, as a student once did, call during SVU to ask for an extension.


I’m told operetta is low-class.  Well . . . I like it.  QED?

[3]  Technically, the actual 1981 FNS cited pickle relish (as one example of a vegetable substitute), not ketchup; ketchup was the catchphrase.  In the end, the entire part of that portion of the FNS (that said condiments– which presumably did include ketchup) got cut.  The revised policy never got accepted in the end (more due to reduction in school meal size quantity and exclusion of large numbers of previously-eligible schoolchildren from free- and reduced price lunches).  And that was your virtual visit to the reference desk!  I’m so sneaky!  And easily sidetracked!

[4]  Given the current popularity of live tweeting, I plan to try no fewer than five GOOP-recommened cleanses– at once— and share (I love that word– #sarcasm)– the experience.  Given my own experiences with, um, “dieting,” I sort of think that’s probably not medically recommended.

April, this brief appearance of Donna in no way indicates that you are being replaced as my role model.  FYI.

April, this appearance of Donna in no way indicates that you are being replaced as my role model. FYI.

[5]  “I do things like get in a taxi and say, ‘The library, and step on it it.'”  Sorry.  That felt obligatory.  Also just had to get it out of my system.  [5a]

     [5a]  And now you can follow up with:  “What in God’s name are those . . . . those sounds?”  Which is probably pretty much how you feel about this blog in general.  [5b]

           [5b]  And now can say “I am not what you see and hear,” which is generally how I feel, anyway.  I hope this footnote series has given you the warm metafuzzies.



Don’t Mourn (?), Organize!  Or at Least Read Some Stuff . . .

So . . .

Keep up with federal legislation regarding libraries.  People kinda like to try to yank funds.

You may have (ahem) heard me mention this, but the Patriot Act . . . yeah.

Federal funding matters.  You can probably also find out what your state is up to.

Know about your privacy.

Diversity is a thing.


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