Lost and Found
Even so, as a librarian, I highly recommend making a daily saunter through the stacks part of your regular routine. For one, you're establishing your presence, so patrons learn to recognize you and feel comfortable flagging you down and asking you questions. Also, you get a sense for how the library is being used. What's the favorite reading nook these days? What kind of food are students sneaking in? Where are people napping?
And, occasionally, you'll stumble upon something important, something even more disturbing than trash, and you're grateful that you're the one to catch it, rather than a patron. Like that guy who claimed to be researching his genealogy who is now looking at loud porn on his laptop. Or, the visiting scholar who reveals either drug addiction or mental illness as he pulls out volume after volume of random periodicals and stacks them in towering piles throughout the library.
Or, a baby.
Long ago, as a young shelver, I was doing the rounds in the large, multilevel university library where I worked. This library was closed to the public, and it was nice knowing that all of our patrons were upstanding members of the same community. Unfortunately, that also meant that we couldn't blame the public when we found discarded soda cans behind a range of books.
It was a quiet afternoon, and the floors, stacks and desks were empty. Floor after floor, there was only the hum of the fluorescent lights and the comforting, pencil-shaving smell of old books.
And, then I saw a stroller, a stroller with a live baby in it. She was snuggled asleep, parked in the middle of an aisle, with no parent in sight. I'd just walked the entire floor and hadn't seen a soul. What made the discovery all the more odd was that the library didn't allow anyone under 16 into the stacks. Patrons couldn't even bring in their adolescent children. So, somehow someone had smuggled a big stroller with a baby into the stacks and left it there for some poor shelver to find.
I'd heard stories about parents dropping off their young kids in the children's section of public libraries, and the poor librarians who have to act as babysitters, but leaving a small baby completely alone in a big empty library seemed a bit extreme. I started to get panicky. Was this an abandoned child? Would I have to call security? Who leaves their baby in the stacks?
Five minutes went by, and I hoped for someone to come around the corner for their child. Eventually I dashed to the phone at one end of the floor to call my supervisor. A few more minutes passed, and he and a group of other library assistants made their way toward me and the sleeping infant.
"Yep, that's a baby."
"It sure is."
"Whose is it?"
"It's the library's baby now."
"Put her in the lost and found."
"Isn't our annual book sale coming up? We can put her up for auction then."
"Do they have any Pampers at the circulation desk?"
"No, but I think they have pacifiers to check out to stressed out undergrads."
"She's in the Russian literature section. Maybe she's just a precocious Dostoyevksy scholar."
Twenty seconds later, baby-in-the-stacks jokes spent, we had to do something.
"Well, I guess I'll call campus security. You guys stay with the baby." My supervisor sighed and walked to the phone, and the rest of us gathered around the stroller in a perplexed circle.
The policeman finally arrived, and we explained the situation.
Then, a calm, distinguished woman slowly rounded the corner, reading a book as she walked, a few other volumes tucked under her arm. She barely registered surprise as she looked up to find a policeman and several library workers surrounding her baby.
"Can I help you?"
"Is this your baby ma'am?"
"Yes. I'm Professor X," she said, unflustered, as if she were introducing herself at a fireside chat at her home.
"You can't leave your child unattended," the policeman folded his arms, looking stern.
"And children under 16 aren't allowed in the stacks," my supervisor added, over the policeman's shoulder.
She looked back at her book and leaned against the bookshelf casually, clearly thinking about something else. Just then a man came from the opposite direction from which she had arrived.
"Darling is everything alright?" A gray-bearded gentleman, also carrying a stack of books, looked at the group, annoyed.
"Sir, we were just explaining to your wife that you cannot leave your child unattended."
"I'm Professor Y," his tone conveyed that we were simply guests on his property and we obviously had other things we should be doing.
The library staff exchanged glances with the policeman and we all backed away, disappearing into the stacks like library elves.
Apparently Professor X and Professor Y had brought their baby into the stacks through the faculty entrance and thought it in their best interest to park their offspring on a neutral floor, so that they could do their respective research quietly, unburdened, on separate floors. Their baby would be safe in the bosom of Russian literature, with the library elves looking on.
I hope Baby Z grows up to love libraries, and that the woody smell takes her back to a time before time and she feels comforted and not alone, even as she's carried far away by ideas.