GORHAM – A group of pre-schoolers and their parents were sitting on the floor, looking up at me as I settled into a rocking chair.

It was Tuesday morning story time at Baxter Memorial Library, and I was the main attraction.

So I took a deep breath, opened up “Harry the Dirty Dog” and began to read. I could feel the power in my voice build as I described Harry, a white dog with black spots who hated to take a bath. I was really getting into character.

I flipped through the first two pages and was really cruising when Kathy Stevens, the youth services librarian at Baxter, leaned toward me and whispered in my ear:

“You want to hold the book facing out so they can see the pictures,” she said, getting a couple of chuckles from the folks who heard her.

My first thought was, “Can’t I just show them the pictures after I read a page?” Then I realized that if I was doing the job of the children’s librarian, I had to put the children before my own personal comfort. So I read the rest of the story facing the pages toward my audience, as I craned my neck to see the words clearly.

Another part of my job was to play a game with the kids. I spun around with my eyes closed, then tried to guess which child was hiding a paper dog bone behind his or her back. Everything during story time was tied into the “Harry” book, I found.

I was very bad at the bone game, which was good for the kids. They thought it was funny every time I guessed wrong. Five-year-old Devin Jacques played up this fact by moving around in the circle and yelling, “You forgot me” every time I tried to find the bone.

Every time I checked him — surprise — he didn’t have the bone.

Story time was followed by a craft project, and then the children left. I realized I had just spent an hour of my working time as a children’s librarian basically doing what I do with my own children — ages 3 and 6 — in my free time.

Which led me to ask Stevens: Are there any parts of this job that aren’t fun?

“Shelving the books,” said Stevens, 63, of Saco, pausing to think a little more. “And reading the shelves. No one likes reading the shelves.”

Guess what I had to do next?

SINGING THE ALPHABET SONG

Shelving the books is what it sounds like. “Reading the shelves” is spending a couple of hours a day reading the tiny numbers on the spine of each book to make sure they’re all in numerical order.

Neither sounded that tough. I bent over to start reading some book numbers and realized most of them can’t be seen entirely unless you open the book. And because this was the children’s section, the shelves are low, with many books on the ground. So I had to kneel down to see some of the numbers.

I checked and doubled-checked about 10 books in maybe five minutes. I couldn’t imagine doing it for two hours.

Stevens then showed me a cart full of books that had been returned, and I wheeled it over to the juvenile fiction section and started putting books away.

I grabbed a copy of “The Magician’s Elephant” by Kate DiCamillo and started scouring the shelves for her name. After a few minutes of looking up and down, back and forth, in the Ds, I found it.

But she had about 10 titles on the shelf, so it took me a couple more moments to figure out where “magician” fell in the alphabetical order.

“You’ll often find librarians singing the alphabet song for this very reason,” said Stevens, who holds a master of library and information science degree.

The numbers on each book represent the famous Dewey Decimal System — which, I quickly found out, is not arbitrary. Everything means something, Stevens explained.

“599 are mammals, but if you go to 599.5 you get ocean mammals, if you go to 599.67 you get elephants,” she said. “But that’s only elephants in the wild. If you want books about elephants in the circus, or performing elephants, that’s the 600s, applied sciences.”

When she saw the dumbfounded look on my face, Stevens added, “No one needs to know stuff like that except librarians.”

NO CHARGE FOR OVERDUE BOOKS?

I spent a little bit of time checking books in and out at the front desk, which was a good illustration of how technology has changed the library.

When handed a book, all I had to do was scan it, and the person’s lending record would pop up on a screen. Then I just stamped the book with the proper due date. (It did take me a few stamps before I could press just right — not too hard, not too soft — so that the stamp’s ink would be legible. Hey, it’s not that easy.)

At one point, after checking out several people, I said to Stevens, “Should I be checking these people’s records to see if they have overdue books, to see if they have any fines to pay?”

“Oh, we don’t charge for overdue books here,” she said. “We let people make a donation if they want.”

Wow, this really is a magical place to work, I thought.

I ended my shift at the library by helping prepare some activities for a day during school vacation week: Pet Rock Day.

My job? I had to paint the image of a clown fish onto a rock.

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]