In 1965 when I was a librarian at View Ridge School in Seattle, I was approached one day by a fourth-grade teacher. She described a boy who needed a challenge; he finished his work so quickly. ''Could he slip into the library and help?'' she asked. There's always work to do in the library, so I said, ''Send the little guy in.''
Soon a slight fellow in blue jeans and a blue T-shirt appeared.
''Do you have a job for me? My name is Bill.'' His features were small; he had sandy hair, blue eyes, and a sprinkle of freckles over his nose.
I proceeded to tell him a little about the Dewey Decimal system and the arrangement of nonfiction books by numbers on the shelves. He picked up the idea immediately and said, ''And the fiction ones are arranged alphabetically by the author's last name.''
He may have looked like other nine-year-olds, but his zeal set him apart. As soon as I showed him the cards for the lost books, he began thumbing through them eagerly. I had hardly launched into the problems of misplaced ''copy-2'' cards in ''copy-1'' book pockets when he said, ''Is it kind of a detective job?'' I agreed, and he became an unrelenting sleuth.
He had found three books with wrong cards when his teacher opened the door and announced, ''Time for recess, Bill.'' He argued for finishing the job at hand; she made the case for fresh air. She won, and he reluctantly joined his classmates.
The next morning, he arrived early. ''I wanted to finish yesterday's job - finding those books,'' he said. When he asked to be a regular librarian, it was easy to say yes. He worked untiringly, never stopping to talk to other children. After a few weeks, I found a beflowered note on my desk. Bill stood by grinning as I opened an invitation to dinner at his home.
At the end of a delightful evening, Bill's mother made a surprising announcement. The family would be moving to the adjoining school district. She said Bill's first concern was, ''I can't leave the View Ridge library. Who will find the lost books?'' But when the time came, his teacher, his classmates, and I said our reluctant goodbyes to Bill. Though he had initially seemed a somewhat ordinary kid, I now regarded him as a sharp little character.
I missed his early-morning arrivals, but not for long. A few days later, in the door he popped. He stood at the entrance and joyfully announced, ''The librarian over there doesn't let boys work in the library. My mother got me transferred back to View Ridge for the rest of the year. My dad will drop me off on his way to work. And if he can't, I'll walk!''
I suppose I should have had some inkling that this kind of focused determination would take him wherever he wanted to go. What I could not have guessed was that he would become the electronics wizard of the age: Bill Gates, tycoon of Microsoft.