Thursday, January 27, 2005

Eavesdropping at the Library

The Multnomah County Public Library system rocks--for so many reasons.* No matter what I’m looking for, be it the CDs of David Cross’s stand-up routine Shut Up You Fucking Baby or Who’s Who in the Bible,** they’ve got it. And, clearly, there’s no self-proclaimed arbiter of "morality" with an iron rod up his ass deciding what should and should not be on the shelves. Everything should be on the shelves, and it is. And that’s the American way.

Today, I walked down to my local branch library to do some research for work. As usual, the library was swarming with people. I love that about Portland--I believe it has been named the most literate city in the U.S. Although I don’t quite know how that was determined, it just feels like it’s true when I see people lined up outside the library waiting for it to open or when I go to a reading at Powell’s, get there 30 minutes early, and still find that it's standing room only.

So there I was in the library carrying out my important research, and I noticed a woman of at least 70 with tangerine-hued hair, a black fake fur coat, and knee-high snow boots flitting about and consulting animatedly with the reference librarian. I can’t help myself from being curious about what books or other media people are checking out, and I was close enough to hear the woman say that she needed books on supermodels and modeling careers. She already had a stack of books on natural face lifts, super nutrients, and anti-aging formulas. I also heard her lament to the librarian that she’d been trying to get down to 110 lb for years. Fascinating. It was so not what I would have guessed she's be interested in, which is in itself interesting (to me at least) because it reminds me how often I tend to jump to conclusions about people based on superficial appearances. I'd like to train myself not to do that.

As I was leaving, I caught sight of her and the librarian in the stacks, and I positioned myself on the opposite side--to eavesdrop--pretending to peruse MCAT test prep books (about the last type of book I’d ever actually be interested in). All I managed to catch before she trundled away again was that she thought that a photo of some sort of natural face masque looked good enough to eat.

Unless society changes very radically and very soon, there’s no modeling career in the offing for this woman. Don’t most modeling agencies consider women over the age of 28 to be over the hill? Sad and wrong. But the great thing about public libraries is that they are so democratic and nonlimiting--anyone can go in them and concoct a dream or pursue a previously concocted one. And for some reason, Portland’s public libraries seem to be outstanding examples of this. Almost every time I go in, I see someone like that woman--someone who is slightly (or perhaps more than slightly) eccentric--but who is very happy and excited about the books (or whatever) he or she has chosen. I feel the same way myself when I take out books or CDs. Maybe it’s because I’m getting them for FREE! Kidding--although I have to admit I felt like I scored a major coup with the David Sedaris Box Set, which has a list price of $79.98! It’s more than that, though, something, I think, to do with a sense of boundless possibility and the potential for change and improvement.***

*A full-blown rhapsody about the Multnomah County Public Library system’s many merits may be be forthcoming on this blog.

**I recommend both, although David Cross has quite the pottymouth, in case that’s not obvious. Who’s Who in the Bible is profanity-free, as far as I can tell.

***What’s with all the footnotes? Am I turning into David Foster Wallace or what?


Blogger Jamie said...

Creeping DFWism. It's a sickness.


6:59 PM  
Blogger Rusty said...

What is DFWism?

Great post. I don't go to the library nearly enough, mainly because (much like the video store) I always end up turning stuff in late and accumulating fines. Then I just wait a few years to get flushed from the system.

Who wants to go in with me to start Netboox? People can get three books at a time, with a monthly payment of $10, and can keep them for as long (or short) as they want. Then just ship them back in a pre-paid envelope, and wait for the next book in their queue. Although I don't suppose it'd ever have the commercial success of Netflix, it would be a worthy enterprise for some gazzillionaire who doesn't care about making money and just wants to improve literacy in America today and forever.

Oh, sorry, slipped off into a dream. I will note that, once, I asked someone at Powell's if they carried The Anarchist's Cookbook, and they said they wouldn't touch that book with a 10' pole. Bet you won't find it at the library either.

I long to meet this 70-yr old aspiring model. She sounds fascinating. I will weep for her 'til the morrow comes...

7:27 PM  
Blogger Cagey said...

I had to laugh at your footnotes - my upcoming post has 'em, also. This post hit close to home as I recently re-kindled my love affair with the library. I am still kicking myself for all the money spent in bookstores when all along, those babies were sitting there for FREE (I also live right by the library and pass by it twice daily. Ouch. Kicked myself again). Does your library have Internet check-outs? Ours does and it ROCKS. I rarely go in the stacks to get books as they are waiting for me at the front desk. Also, regarding Netboox, I would say I'd still rather do - and it's free.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love! the Netbook idea. I joined book crossing but find I don't use it. I just leave a book and don't track it. And it is true, Multnomah Co. Public Libraries do rock. I use my computer to find the book I want and also renew online. Awesome. But I have to admit that for new releases I am an impatient reader and usually buy the danged hardbound (often pre-buy!) cause I don't think far enough ahead to put my name on the waiting list at the library. But they win cause then I usually donate the danged thing. Share the wealth!

8:39 AM  
Blogger Rozanne said...


I know. I believe I caught it from you! And I'm glad I did. Footnotes appeal to me because then I don't have to edit out tangential yet crucial (of course) asides. I'm a big fan of the parenthetical statement, too.


DFWism is a reference to David Foster Wallace, the writer I mentioned in my third (!) footnote. DFW has a penchant for footnoting his stories and essays--sometimes to the point where a footnote takes up a whole page!

Oh, and BTW, the Multnomah County Library has 13 copies of the Anarchist Cookbook with more on order. Bombs away!

I'll bet the Netboox idea would have some takers. I wonder if it's already been done?


We don't exactly have Internet check-out but we do have an awesome, awesome, awesome online catalog that you can access from home. You can put anything you want on hold, and it will be shuttled to the branch library of your choice where it will be sitting on a shelf near the front with your name on it. Then you can check it out yourself with this scanner machine thing. Plus, you can actually access Interlibrary Loan from your home computer, check something out from Connecticut (if necessary), and eventually be able to pick it up at your branch library. I'd better stop now before this turns into the threatened full-blown library rhapsody!


You know, I still have only the vaguest idea of what Book Crossing is. I keep hearing people talk about it. I will have to go to the site, now that Cagey has so helpfully provided the URL.

I, too, love the renewal online option. Whoever built and maintains the library's computer database is a genius!

I understand why you go out and buy the hardcover. B and I are pretty patient (or maybe we're just cheap-asses!), but I've been on waiting lists for books or media where I was #587. But you know what? The libe often get so many copies of a popular book that it doesn't take nearly as long as you might think to get the book--even if you're #587.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Growing up in the boondocks, we always went into the Downtown Multnomah County Library for research. Well, research and it was a great way to get your parents approval to go Downtown. (If you grew up where I did you would understand what a big thing that actually was.) I loved that library. I would often just walk up and down the huge stair case because it was so very cool.

I could never check anything out, though, as I lived in Clackamas County.

And So It Goes

9:56 AM  
Blogger Cagey said...

I shouldn't have said "check-out" and should have used "hold" instead. Our library system is county-wide and has the same setup as yours. I don't miss perusing the stacks either because I surf Amazon so often.

Speaking of books - I have The Suitable Boy on my "To Be Read" bookshelf and am wondering what you thought of it. It's on the Orange Prize list of Essential Contemporary Reads (a list I hope to get through over the next few years.)

11:05 AM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Lucky, lucky people!! The library here in Boondock, Nebraska does not offer much. Of course, this is the same library where everything I checked out, or tried to check out when I was a teenager was censored!! I was refused books more than once..

Three cheers for your little lady. People watching is such fun.

"I tend to jump to conclusions about people based on superficial appearances".
Try not being judgmental about anything for just oh, thirty minutes or so. It's a hoot. Makes me laugh at myself. If I make five minutes, it's a victory.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Rozanne said...


I absolutely love the downtown library and the grand staircase with its engravings of roses. The building is an architectural masterpiece!


A Suitable Boy is one of my all-time favorite books. The characters are wonderful, real, and fallible. The writing is warm and funny and actually rather in the Jane Austen vein. Vikram Seth is a really gifted writer IMHO. I think you'd love the book--it will probably resonate even more with you, given that you married into an Indian family.

A word of warning. B found a BBC radio production of A Suitable Boy somehow and it was way too abridged and hard to follow. Definitely read it the old-fashioned words-on-paper way. Oh, and thanks for the link to the Orange Prize list. Do you know I'd never even heard of it? That sort of list is right up my street.


That is *terrible* that someone thought they had the right to tell you what you should and shouldn't read. That makes me so angry.

I should try the nonjudgmental thing and see how it goes. I think it will be really hard to remain neutral. I wonder why we can't do that?

12:23 PM  
Blogger Cagey said...

Cool - I may start Suitable Boy next, then - I scored a hard-back edition for $5 (think of my biceps after that baby!). I am not a big fan of doing novels via audio. Non-fiction is okay, but nothing can replace cozying up to a good novel with at least 1 cat by your side.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Rozanne said...


The hardback weighs about 10 lb, I think.

3:40 PM  
Blogger ddddddddddddddddddddd said...

Hey, no fair, I haven't been to that library. I want to see the grand staircase, too. Waaa.. Oops, slipped into whiny brat mode. Cool site, and I so way love the library. ANY library. The one here in Maple Ridge is so cool, you can go through the online catalog which covers every library from Yale, BC to Surrey and every community in between. They all share the books, then, request it online and have it sent to the one nearest you. And renew online too. Since the big break-up in our family on January 2nd, the kids and I visit the library at least once a week.

And I so relate to your comment about judging people before you see/hear/know what they are about. Bad habit of mine too. Visiting from The Queen (aka Denise) site.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Rozanne said...


Thanks for stopping by. I think it's great that you take your kids to the libe so often. Only good can come of it!

10:37 PM  
Blogger thequeen said...

AHHH I love the library,it is heaven on earth I tell you what! I can get anything I want to read at that wonderous place..I too am a people watcher,that lady sounds interesting,I once saw a younger man hovering over a computer with his jacket over his head! Wonder what he was gandering at??!!!
I love this post, excellent, I think I will go to the library today, I need to take back some late books and get some more,I tend to keep them over long and feel that check out times should be longer then a week and a half..I forget I have them sometimes, can't tell you how many I have had to buy then found a year or so later sitting right on my bookshelf..I know this is a terrible habbit.:)

1:54 PM  
Blogger Rozanne said...


It is sooooo easy to let books get overdue. I once had a book about tornadoes out for six months. I had forgotten I had it until the library sent me a letter about it. I had to pay a whopping fine on it.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Cagey said...

Close.....It weighs just over 4 lbs. This will be a "home reader". I will have to read something else at the same time that can actually leave the house with me.

7:33 AM  

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