I volunteer to search

I was filing cards in our small pleasant local library, as part of my weekly volunteer duties. A thin, blue-jeaned, teen-age girl, sporting a cloudy mane of waist-long hair, appeared beside me. She paid no attention to me but pulled open a drawer and riffled through the cards. ``May I help you?'' I ventured. Library volunteering has taught me that borrowers are sometimes uncertain about how to use the card file. ``D'ya have anything on butterfly knives?'' she asked.

``I don't know but let's look,'' I said, and opened the B-card drawer. Sensing instant scorn, I gathered I was on the wrong track and tried another question. ``Does it have anything to do with butterflies?''

``It's a knife,'' she said bluntly, thumbing through more cards.

``Then we'll look somewhere else. But why,'' I asked, ``are you looking in the Ns?''

``For knife,'' said she, ``n-i-f-e,'' with a look that implied ``What else?''

I explained gently that she would find nothing about knives in the Ns and why she should try the Ks.

Apparently warming a bit to my desire to help despite my obvious adult ignorance, she explained she had been given a butterfly knife but found it too complicated to use safely without instruction.

A brief look in several books and encyclopedias revealed no such instruction. It was apparent she wasn't going to do any more research herself and I had no more time, so I suggested a hardware store might solve her problem.

Still, the encounter was not a total loss. As she started out the door, the girl turned, smiled warmly, and said, ``Thank you.'' And I'd learned that butterfly knives don't fly.

Then there's the ongoing struggle with fiction and nonfiction.

``Do you have such-and-such a book?'' I'll be asked. If I don't recognize it, I counter with ``Is it fiction or nonfiction?'' I need to do this because our card file is segregated the same as the books on the shelves. But sometimes my question only draws a blank stare.

``Do you know the difference?'' I persist, gently I hope.

``Oh sure,'' may be the answer, followed by silence. Now and then I get a feeler such as ``Fiction is what's not true, . . . isn't it?''

It was a happy moment when one chubby, pink-cheeked third-grader said proudly, ``Sure I know. Fiction is made up.''

It was a less than happy moment when another young boy told me firmly, ``My teacher says fiction is what's true and nonfiction is what's not true.'' Whether the teacher was misinformed or merely misquoted I'll never know.

Still, whenever I can send a young person away clearly knowing the difference, my day is made. Although, unhappily, it isn't always a young person.

My heart also lifts each time a mother shepherds her offspring into our small-fry department, with its great collection of enchanting tales, beautifully illustrated. It's fun to see the joy on their faces as they lug their own selections to the checkout counter, stretching on tiptoe to shove them over the top, shining eyes barely visible above the counter.

How sad that there aren't hundreds more tots using our libraries.

Boys have asked me for books on mystery and adventure, but without murders. ``I don't like killing,'' they add shyly, as though fearing to be thought too different from their peers. Today many fine stories exist to meet this need; and what superior plots they'd make for Saturday morning TV.

To a reader of any age a library can be a great adventure, for reading is a priceless boon. It beats incessant television all to pieces. And who knows, it might even improve our spelling. Eve Warwick

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