A Hollywood opening

Saturday, April 22, was my first visit to the Hollywood branch [1] of our library system. [2] It was a spectacularly good experience. Already I feel a reluctance to go back to try to experience it all over again because it is really hard to experience something the same way twice.  On the other hand, I will never forget the experience. Ever. And I know why. And if you’ll stay with me, I’ll tell you.

This morning, that branch of the library opened at 10:00. I was there at 9:53 and so were a few mothers with young children. By 9:59 there were lots of mothers with young children and quite a few older people too, all men. We were all waiting for the doors to open.

At 10:00 exactly, two librarians showed up to open the two large glass doors and people started in. Just inside those two doors, you have to turn to the left where you encounter two more large glass doors. Those doors were being held open—wide open—by two more librarians.

Everyone who entered received a greeting from these four young women. It was not a personal greeting, like “Oh, Mrs. Jones, how good to see you again. How is little Robert?” Nothing like that. The words spoken were more like “Good morning” and “Welcome to the library” and “Isn’t it a lovely day?” But it wasn’t the words, it was the manner.

All four of the librarians were interacting with us as we went in. They made eye contact; they smiled; they held the doors as open as the doors would go. They spoke to each adult who came in and to some of the children. If they had been curtsying, the effect could hardly have been more dramatic or more unexpected. It was a performance, certainly, but it was a performance with a meaning that everyone understood and some of us, at least, cherished.

You have to stop a minute and remember that these are not customers. They are not there to buy anything. The library would not make a nickel more by managing this entering ceremony badly than they would by managing it well.

I am sure that the people they chose to do the ceremony were people who were naturally IMG_0034.jpggood at it or who had gotten good at it. But good people or no, the ceremony itself is aimed at making people feel welcome because it is a library. They conveyed the attitude that a library is a special place. That’s where the illusion of the curtsying came from. Welcome to this special place. We do knowledge here. We are so glad you have come to spend some time sharing this pursuit with us.

It was hard for me to believe that I had seen what I thought I had seen. And then, by great good fortune, I had trouble finding the book I was there to check out. It wasn’t on the shelf “were it belonged” because it was on a special shelf called “Staff Picks.” What a good place for it to be! The librarian who helped me find it knew all about the charade I had witnessed at the doors. “For some of our people,” she said, “That is the best part of the day.”

So they knew what they were doing. I may have been unusually sensitive to it, but I wasn’t making it up. It’s hard not to love a place like Portland where things like this just keep happening.

[1] The first prominent feature in this neighborhood was the Hollywood theater and the name of the neighborhood was changed from Hollyrood to match the theater. “Hollyrood is, itself, an adaptation of Holyrood, an area in Edinburgh, Scotland.
[2] “For the 11th year in a row, Multnomah County Library patrons have checked out and renewed more items than patrons of any other U.S. library serving fewer than one million residents — an average of about 33.4 items checked out or renewed for every man, woman and child in Multnomah County,” according to the Public Library Data Service Statistical Report

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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