Here is the other half of my observations from Day 2 regarding my job, which also nicely sums up my Day 3.
The room itself is located on the main floor of Central Library but tucked away in a corner. As a result, patrons often regard our Reading Room as a quiet place to work. One myth I should dispel about the Prairie History Room is that it’s not a designated quiet space. There is actually no designated quiet places in our library. Patrons can browse our collection, take books off the shelf and even make photocopies. The only restriction is that we don’t allow patrons to drink or eat in the room.
Anyway back to the desk. Unfortunately, Prairie History was renovated before my arrival in 2006 and what ended up happening was the placement of an oversized reference desk outside of the reading room. Yes, to my dismay, the desk acts as a the proverbial gatekeeper. Patrons will sometimes ask if they are even allowed into the room.
The desk is really a minor hiccup. The best part of my job is really working with the patrons. As hard as it is to be in the public eye all the time, I really enjoy working our clientele who include the hard-core genealogists, local writer who use our collection for their “inspiration”, amateur historians looking for info about a long-forgotten building or individuals, and my personal favorite, the young school age kids who are researching for their Heritage Fair project. Yesterday and today were no exceptions.
I won’t kid you when I say that all of the questions that are asked are interesting. Most of them tend to be the “usual” sort–namely, “Do you have the obit for this person?”, “Do you have the newspaper from March, 1952?” or “How do you print from the microfilm machine?” These are the types of questions I can answer in my sleep. But from time to time, I am pleasantly surprised by how a simple answer can sometimes result into something a little extraordinary. Last night was no exception.
A mother came to the PHR desk and told me that she is trying to help both of her daughters with their heritage fair projects. One daughter was researching Nellie McClung and another was focusing on the Underground Railroad. The one with the Nellie McClung project was having some difficulties because the mother was really trying to track down some of McClung’s stories. I was skeptical because PHR does not collect fiction at all but I duly found and placed holds on a couple of books that she could borrow from other branches. I also found books on McClung within the PHR collection and set them side for her while she went to renew her library card at the circulation desk. As I was scrolling through the results list, I noticed a couple of references to McClung’s writings that looked like there were works of fiction. I checked our shelves and then ran downstairs to our secondary storage unit where I ended up finding a copy of The Black Creek Stopping House and Other Stories.
But the real surprise was when I opened up the book and realized that our copy was printed in 1912! For a book this is 100 years old, it’s in terrific condition. When I peeked inside, I noticed a book label saying it was a donation to the library. Although I don’t really know when the book was donated and became part of the PHR collection, I kinda like to think this book has been part of our collection when we first opened our central location in 1912. I just find it so fascinating that a)my predecessors opted to keep it despite that the fact it doesn’t fit our collection mandate b) its excellent condition despite the fact that we don’t have optimal storage conditions for old books. Needless to say, the mother was so thrilled with the find and could hardly wait for her daughter to come in to see it. Just what I like to hear and see. Oh and by the way, I also found some additional books on the Underground Railway for her other daughter. The mother left the library very satisfied and happy that I was able to help her. Happiness all around.