By Teddy Allen
Shreve Memorial Library turns 100 this year, a celebratory occasion but bleak reminder that there could be a steep price to pay for that book you’ve been meaning to take back since 1926.
Part of my feeble life has been marked by library intrigue. The smell of the books. The intent of its visitors, heads down in learning repose at neat and sturdy tables. That unique library quietness — not a still quietness like the cemetery but a very alive and purposeful quietness.
Love the library.
When it came to hero worship, while other first and second graders were locked in on their sports idols and television stars, I wanted nothing more than to meet Captain Kangaroo (another story for another time), Charley Pride, and Dewey Decimal.
Mainly Dewey Decimal.
I was a weird kid.
But something about the library fascinated me, from the card catalog right on through the little packet glued to the inside back book cover that held a card with all the information concerning where that book had been and when. You could look on the little card and see that Lee Ann Rozier had checked this book out before you did, which meant that she had held it in her precious little second grade hands, and all you had to do was read it and you’d have a conversation starter next time you were lucky enough to sit by her in the lunch room.
Who knows when I first heard the term “Dewey Decimal System,” but the alliteration alone must have made my tiny head spin. This meant that one day a guy sat down and figured out how to put All This Stuff in order, that General Works would go in the 000 section, Philosophy and Psychology would go in the 100s, and on like that.
Must have took him a while.
Investigation revealed that “Dewey” had figured out where all these books would go, and that his name wasn’t Dewey Decimal at all, but Melvil Dewey, a New York native born in 1851, lifelong librarian and founding member of the American Library Association (ALA). The Dewster could hit .300 while reading a Victorian novel and straightening up with Biographies section, (which is in the 900s, just for the record).
Turns out Dewey was one of those books you can’t judge by its cover. He actually had to resign in 1905 from the ALA he helped found, due to allegations of sexual harassment and other things people in charge of the card catalog won’t allow.
So, my library idol turned out to be a dud. Rascal could catalog a book though; you’ve got to give him that. You just didn’t want to share a study nook with him. Well, you didn’t even want to be in the same library branch with him.
We haven’t come too far in improving human nature during the past century, but we sure have improved the library. Dewey wouldn’t even recognize the libraries he’d get thrown out of today.
There are tutoring programs. Ways to look up your ancestry; (hope you aren’t kin to Dewey). Ebooks and audio books to check out. CDs. TV shows and music to stream. And some of these things you check-out digitally automatically check themselves back in. Correct: the library material is smarter than we are.
Last month I went to get a new library card. Cost one dollar to replace my old card. I got a pin number so I can do online books now for free, minus my initial one whole dollar investment.
There was one downside. Pam, the gracious librarian, looked at me like the doctor looks at you right before he says he’ll have to amputate your leg.
“You do owe a fine,” she said. “Overdue book.”
Me: “Oh lord. I’m sorry. How mu…?”
Pam: “It’s from 2006.”
Me: (Weak-kneed, calculating what I’ll have to sell to pay the fine on a book 17 years overdue…)
Pam: “That’ll be dollar and thirty cents.”
I love the library.
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