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Tissues at the ready


I am a couple of months in to my time at one of the busiest (if not the busiest) and most needy libraries in Victoria.  I am loving every minute (I say this seriously), aside from the disconcerting feeling that life is flying by.  No longer do the work weeks drag or the afternoons push through molasses.  I come to work, I help lots of people, I go home and the day is done.  I will be planning my retirement before I know it.

The other night it was a little quieter than usual.  I was in the non-fiction section, perfect ordering, shelf tidying, nothing too taxing.  A young girl who must have been like, 19 or 20 wanders in, with numerous double-bagged plastic bags full of what looked like text books and notebooks, a bulging purse and a sweet, cheery-faced boy of about 4 who happily followed her around, non-complaining, eating a jam sandwich and grinning.

She looked harried, and let's be honest she looked like she had had a hard life.  Nothing about her demeanour or appearance spoke of wealth, opportunity or prosperity.  But hey, where I work, that's pretty normal.  But I dunno, something about her struck me.  She was very kind, if not a bit distracted.  She wanted to know all about the ins and outs of the library and attentively listened to all I said, took notes on her phone, got me to show her a number of things on our website.  She was borrowing books from the self-help section and had amassed an impressive pile.  She needed help printing a poster for her young boy because he had accidentally ripped the one he had.  She was so grateful for my help, and I wanted her to feel as comfortable and as welcome as possible.  I spent about half an hour with her, way too long, I guess, but I wanted her to know I was here to help and that she and her wee boy would always be welcome in the library.  I eventually left her with her boy at one of the computers.  She sat down and then dutifully and lovingly wiped his little hands of jam before she let him touch the computer.  In that moment she showed a lot more consideration for others than many people I see.

I don't know why she touched me like she did.  But there you go.  Even now I feel a bit teary.  For all the rhetoric about hard work getting you places, if you're not successful then you're just not working hard enough, or you need to get out there and work harder to create the life of your dreams.  What a load of shit.  There are some people who do not win the life lottery.  Who by no fault of there own are born into circumstances that just make everything bloody hard.  But they still try, and in trying they do make their lives better, but they have so, SO much further to come than those who are already born with opportunity and some small benefit of privilege.  These people have to travel miles and miles to reach a place that some people are just lucky enough to be born into.

Libraries are equalisers.  Once you walk through those doors, the staff are there for EVERYONE and we don't care where you have come from, but we will do our best to help you get where you need to go.  And we will do it with respect, and empathy, and without judgement.  She was so grateful for the help I gave her, but in the end, I think it was she who gave me more.


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