Saturday, August 13, 2005

Down the Rabbit Hole 

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A woman with the lushest, most beautiful black eyelashes I have ever seen wanted a copy of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. She specified, “I don’t want the everyday copy. I want the special copy that has the circle writing.”

“What kind of writing did you say? Circular?”

All exasperated, “You know, the special kind of writing that goes around and around and around and has messages in it. Like the Masons.”

As if the mention of the Masons weren't enough to clue me in, her smell, that distinctive sweaty metallic odor of schizophrenia, hit me in the face just then like a deploying airbag. I told her that all of our copies were checked out.

“How about Good News for Modern Man?”

After checking the catalog I said, “I’m sorry, but that’s not in either.”

She began to get agitated and sway her head back and forth like an owl. “I need to see that copy! It has messages for me. Important messages vital to national security.” She leaned in and whispered, “I’m descended from Mary and Joseph.” Clearly distraught now, she wailed, “Why don’t you have it? Would you look up my library record for me, then? I don’t have my card. It was stolen.”

“All right, then. What’s your name?”

“Mary Magdalene.”

The dialogue I have with the mentally ill at the reference desk reminds me of the sort of nonsense conversations I have with people in my dreams. I often have long, involved talks with people in my dreams, but usually the pieces I manage to remember are bewildering word salad. Even though they make absolutely no sense, I get the strange feeling that what people are saying to me is mildly prophetic and meaningful, as if the person talking is trying to convey an important message or impart wisdom, but in riddles. When schizophrenics start on their riffs, babbling like Sibyls or raving like prophets, I often feel like I’m in a dream. As fascinating as it can be, it is also extremely disorienting, like I'm not sure if I'm dreaming or awake.

I was thinking of going to your library and acting like a complete nutsack in order to freak you out, but there's really no point, is there? No way I could come near what you have to deal with. Fiction, comma,Truth is stranger than...
What makes you think that you're not dreaming when you're at the library? *grin*

You might want to consider recruiting some of the Night Warriors from the Graham Masterton book of the same name, just to help you get through the day :D

I spend a lot of time at our local library, but I've never seen them have to deal with 1/100th of what you have to deal with.
You can smell mental illness?

Jeez, now I've got that to worry about....

Just on a purely technical point here, can I ask which classification system you use in your library? And do you foresee a time when all books will be electronic?

Yours fraternally in the freemasonry of Librarianship,

We're Dewey all the way, baby, as befits a public library. LC works well in academic and corporate.

I don't think paper books will go away - there are just too many drawbacks to electronic. I think people really like the tactile experience of paper. You can't read electronic in a tub, either. Electronic books are a wonderful supplement, though. The more books and methods to enjoy them, the better.
Schizophrenics have an oniony, metallic odor. Many in the library live on the streets and aren't into grooming themselves, but I swear there's an odor beyond the usual street smell.

My sense of smell is not all of that acute, which is kind of a blessing in my line of work. My great aunt, however, was a doctor and would use her sense of smell as a diagnostic tool. She swore that illnesses like yellow fever and TB all had distinctive odors, and would amaze her colleagues by diagnosing patients correctly on the spot. Now dogs are trained and used to detect skin and other cancers. Supposedly they can detect it a year before more standard tests can. Our noses are definitely an underutilized organ...
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