A Librarian's Adventures With Students and Stacks

Reference librarians are adept at carefully questioning patrons so as to find the right information quickly, and for elementary librarians, this is an immutable way of life:

"It was a tall, thin, blue book, Miss Ducey, under the window."

"An art book?"

"Yeah, about that man who painted little dots."

One particular Monday morning began with a small boy from second grade bringing two books, his fine, and a note I had written on Friday and left in his teacher's box in the office.

"Dear Patrick," the note began. "Would you do me a favor and clean your desk? I think you might find these two books at the very bottom, for they have been out so long. Thanks, J. Ducey."

Now I thanked him, but he lingered. "Was there something else you needed, Patrick?"

"Could I please have the letter back?" he said. "It's only the second one I ever got."

Certain questions surface each year: Do fish sleep? Do you have any books on the Loch Ness monster or flying saucers? And always the little lecture assuring students that it is the "Dewey Decimal System," not the "Ducey Decimal System."

Our school had a large outdoor play area surrounded by dense shrubbery, and of course the boys collected spiders during recess and came to the library to ask if I thought they were black widows.

I should have learned to be wary of Monday mornings, for that was often the time when weekend discoveries appeared for identification. One time I forgot my usual caution, and when two boys came in and asked me to help identify a spider I foolishly asked if they had him in the box.

They whisked the top off and there, reclining on a bed of cotton, was a monstrous tarantula. I didn't scream, primarily because my voice had left me.

Finally, I whispered, "Is it alive?"

"We got him doped," they said. "But he's coming out of it now." They poked the creature who slowly lifted one threatening leg.

I urged them to cover the box and hurried to check out a book on spiders and send the boys on to their room as heroes of the day. It could have been worse; it could have been a snake. Which reminds me that the parent of one student telephoned once to ask if we had a book on how to get a snake out of a well. I'm afraid I failed that man.

Rarely did I discourage students in their reading choices, but once when I questioned a young boy about his choice of a science book he said with no uncertainty and not a little scorn, "I can't read it, but I can understand it!"

Always there came the time when students had to write about their career choices. Since our school was in the country and many students owned horses, it was no surprise that more than half of them decided each year to become veterinarians.

Except for one seven-year-old girl and one eight-year-old boy, both of whom wished to become detectives. The boy, however, was not satisfied with any of the police books I offered.

"I want to be an important detective," he said. "One about stars." We finally settled on books about astronomers.

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