Old librarian

How to know when you’ve become an old librarian:

The new librarians in your branch are not young enough to be your children, but your grandchildren.

The necktie you wore to your first job interview has gone in and out of fashion three times.

Half of your library school class is working the reference desk in the sky.

You wrote out catalog cards when the typewriter was busy.

You remember taking a test to get into library school, a test to get out, and another test to get your job.

You had to know two foreign languages to get into the major–and it was an undergraduate degree.

There was one color for wardrobes:  dark.

There was one hairstyle for women:  up.

Many librarians worked entire careers in one place.  Some of them in the same chair.

Men wore suits and women wore them, too.

You remember closing the library when Kennedy was shot.

You remember wondering what would happen to your job if the Cubans let the Russians shoot those missiles.

You remember the sound that different coins made falling through the pay phone in the lobby.

And you remember when it became “okay” for women to wear pants to work.

And when it was a shock to see a woman with a tattoo.

And when it was common for women librarians to leave when they got married, or pregnant.

Speaking of which, you recall when it was a scandal for women to get pregnant out of wedlock, and that they were fired for cause.

And then there was the basement that was officially a bomb shelter but which was used as the movie screening room.


Fans instead of air conditioning.

Natural light that changed through the day; small lamps at reading tables for nighttime.

Half a hundred extinct magazines:  Collier’s, Liberty, Look, Life, and all the dead newspapers, too.

All the revolutionary inventions that were going to eliminate your job:  microfilm, microfiche, television, keypunch, MARC, the personal computer; the Internet.

Loyalty oaths.

Men being taken by the draft; men coming back from wars; men not coming back from wars; men coming back from wars with pieces missing.

The first public copy machine, the one with the chemical smell and the wet print process.

Having to buy a change machine for the copy machine.

The first broken-spined books, crippled by being smashed down on the copy machine.

Bubble gum under desks and chairs, in books and practically everywhere else.  The banning of chewing gum.

Pens on chains next to library card applications on oak desks that had holes for inkwells.

Many students doing research copying down references on file cards by hand.

The first male librarian with long hair.  And those sideburns!

The days when nobody was gay or lesbian because you couldn’t be hired if you were a “pervert.”  Many women living with “lifelong companions.”  Rumors about some fellow who never dated.

The novelty of the first Negro librarian.

Celebrating Christmas with decorations but no other religious holidays.

M. McGrorty, Wed 6/17/2009 2:06 PM [CDT]

One Response

  1. When the O was Ohio…

    When you wrote in the library card number (or name) on the checkout card and stamped the due date with a little stamp on the end of the pencil

    When you could get a little high by sniffing the purple ink on the copies from the stencils

    When you couldn’t finish processing new books on a hot summer’s day because the varnish smell made you sick and it wouldn’t harden so the book covers stayed sticky

    Dusty Gres


    Ohoopee Regional Library System
    610 Jackson Street
    Vidalia, GA 30474


    “Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” — William James

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