So strange today, walking into one of our public libraries to pick up books that I had reserved online.
When you enter the lobby, you are greeted by a library assistant and have to respond to a few covid screening questions; of course, that’s no surprise at all during 2020. I reply to their queries and proceed into the building, reflecting that we are all entrusting strangers to tell the truth about their health (and how careful, or careless, they have been). And of course, they are also trusting me not to be a germ-spreader.
I don’t know how risky it is to touch a book in the library, compared to a product on a grocery store shelf. But the library’s rules are their rules. And it’s all part of the great unknown that has become our “new normal.”
It feels as if I’m visiting the books and they are imprisoned. Indeed, most of our city’s library branches have been closed since the spring, and the books have been inaccessible during that long, long summer.
Although I’ve snuck into the building in November and can see shelf after shelf of my treasured Dewey Decimal friends, there is an impermeable divide between us. A few volumes are displayed on a shelf or a cart, just within my grasp. But the stacks behind them are blocked off by crowd-control non-velvet ropes. I cannot even reach out and peruse the covers by myself, to see whether I want to read something from New Nonfiction.
“May I help you?” offers a passing library employee from the other side of the crowd-control barrier. I accept her help and arbitrarily judge a book by its cover: How to Teach Philosophy to Your Dog, by Anthony McGowan. Randomly putting the book under my arm, I walk up to the Lucite-blocked checkout desk to claim my reserved volumes.
I feel wistful as I step away and depart the building, unable to adopt the remaining books from their deserted stacks. They remain incarcerated behind the barrier, hopefully awaiting the next visitor to their holy ground.