This image is of Goldilocks and a bear and the bear is saying, You write with such empathy
In this image a fierce woman warrior looks out over a quotation about straightening up books
A cuppa Earl Grey will go nicely with this.

This is the story of when I volunteered at the Newberry Library’s Book Fair.
It was reported they had over 100,000 used books on sale.
As a Floating Book Minder, I touched at least 50,000 of them.


I’d been in Chicago for two years and it was time to Give Back to the Community. I figured that by volunteering for the Newberry I could add a gloss of faux braniac-ism to my oeuvre.

“The Newberry Library is an independent research library concentrating in the humanities with an active educational and cultural presence in Chicago. Free and open to the public, it houses an extensive non-circulating collection of rare books, maps, music, manuscripts, and other printed material.”
Newberry Library Web Site

See? Brainy. I would look good hanging out there.

When I showed up for the book fair I was given a smart red apron and a common looking white t-shirt that would establish my temporary status as a volunteer. I asked the nice ladies at the volunteer desk if I had to wear the t-shirt. They said they would really, really like it if I did.

I asked the ladies what I would be doing.
You’re a Floating Book Minder.
What is that, exactly?
Well, you straighten up the books in the rooms. After people have messed them up by looking through them.
Do I have a particular room?
No, you float.
OK.

I ditched the t-shirt in my locker the first chance I got and headed for the quietest room with the fewest people and no other Book Minders in it.

That made me the sole Travel/Architecture/Science/Foreign Language Book Minder. I straightened the books. It was easy. I smiled at people if we happened to be looking at each other at the same time. I tried to keep eight feet away from customers so I wasn’t like some sort of royal maid, straightening up directly behind his lordship or her ladyship.

It wasn’t long before I began to feel I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I kept touching the books. So many books... I kept them Super-Minded. I was unstoppable.

I decided to float. In larger rooms there might be as many as 10 other Book Minders... we followed one another at 20 foot intervals through the rows of tables and the stacks along the walls. It was as if they weren’t capable of doing the job right and I was there to tidy after them. And the one behind me tidied up after me and so on and so forth.

I got a little too close to a browsing customer and said, “Pardon, me, I’m just straightening up here.”
“Well, you’re doing a very good job of it.”

Finally. Some recognition.

“Are you finding any good books to buy?” I asked her.
“God no! I’m not buying any books today.”

And because she was a character of sorts in her older, short-cool-haircut and overlarge round glasses way I inquired in a voice filled with deadpan disgust: “Then just why are you here, lady?”

She didn’t skip a beat: “Oh, just to be part of the fray. I moved into a studio last year and I can’t have any more books. None. At all.”

We briefly discussed the Chicago Library System. I told her about the Bughouse Square debates-- a series of speeches given throughout the day by social reformers going on in front of the Newberry that very day. Hecklers are very welcome, I told her. She was pleased about that last bit and said, “I should very much like to do some heckling today.”

We said our goodbyes and I returned to Travel/Architecture/Science/Foreign Language.

“Dammit!” I wanted to yell, “What the hell had been going on in here?” Books were askew and even willy nilly. Catawumpus for sure, no doubt bedlam had fingered at least half the titles...

THE SQUIRELLING AREA BECKONS

I approached the Polish language table where a man was shyly touching the cover of a book. I said to him, jokingly, “Look at this mess, I can’t leave you people alone for five minutes.” He smiled and sidled away quickly.

Sensing the near-disaster visited upon Travel/Architecure/Science/Foreign Language, a couple other Minders showed up and got to work. I decided to float again and ended up helping out a Mr. West at the Squirreling Area.

People would ask us what the Squirreling Area was, exactly, and I would tell them it is where the smartest, best looking and nicest volunteers sit and answer questions about the book fair. Mr. West and I would laugh and laugh and finally tell them, heck, it’s really just a place to keep your books until you’re ready to check out. All we did was have people write their names on a piece of paper and we’d clothespin the paper to the top book in their stack.

Some folks? They’ll gather boxes and boxes of books to buy. When they returned for their books we’d take the piece of paper and send them along. When Mr. West was gone at lunch, I started collecting the pieces of paper. I thought it would be interesting to make a sort of book fair poem with the names... or just read them aloud as if each and every one were rock stars. Because who would know they weren’t?

When Mr. West returned he looked at me a little funny when I said I wanted to keep the pieces of paper with names on them. He smiled and crumpled the name he’d just retrieved from a checking-out customer’s book stack. Mr. West was saying silently, I don’t think so, Miss.

I stared at his fist for a full ten seconds. Then we were cool.

I know you've been wondering and yes, as a Book Minder you may also pick up books to buy. Here’s what I bought:

I got all of these for $11.50. High five!

It was time for me to go. I’d eaten my free volunteer sack lunch and asked the other volunteers if they’d felt like washing their hands a lot after touching all those books. They said, just a little bit.

I turned in my apron and paid for my books. I saw a bit of the Bughouse Square debates and tried to heckle the speaker but he was too sensible, not bughouse enough to heckle. I went home and read about Flag Day and felt a lot smarter.