Friday, 23 August 2013

Happy times at the libraries

Me at Marine Parade Library, wearing a mask which I
taught the kids to make for Halloween.
PERHAPS I should have stayed on as a Library Officer. It wasn't too bad.

This was my second job after graduating from the university -- after a short spell with World Scientific. It wasn't my first choice. My first choice was to be an Archives Officer. I was disappointed. I had so wanted to interview people and record their history. I do so want to learn how to restore old documents... Nosing round old, crumbling buildings and doing paper rubbing on artifacts and sculptures. Why oh why, didn't the National Archives take me in?

Oh well. So I started work at the Ang Mo Kio (AMK) Library which was closest to where I was staying at Serangoon Gardens. When I bought my bike, I was even able to cycle to work (through Cheng San Road, then carry the bike up a flight of steps and hitting Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10. )

I later got to work at Marine Parade Branch Library -- a happy time for me too as the library attendants there were a happy bunch and fun. Besides other things, I was in charge of the Christmas tree. I was rather proud of introducing the method of storing it in its entirety -- lights, baubles, cotton wool snow and all -- so that next Christmas, all you have to do is to shake it out from its plastic bag, and ta-rum!
Me hosting a quiz for the kids at MPBL.

On my first day at AMK, the senior librarian took me round the place and made me do a conducted tour for her immediately after that, saying that was the fastest way to familiarise myself. She gave a tight-lipped smile that was almost a sneer after I had stumbled through the tour. But she seemed satisfied.

She was very trendy -- usually in pointed high heels -- and usually red. Reed thin, she had long, permed hair.She carried herself really well, not at all your idea of a frumpy, frazzled librarian. But she wasn't one who would want to be chummy with you. She was rather officious and distant from everyone.

I was great pals with a fellow librarian. I liked him the moment I saw him gliding into the office on a skateboard. He passed me some really great tips on getting round the idiosyncrasies of our colleagues. He was going out with a Muslim library attendant whom he later married. We all went to the wedding. She was a real sweetie.

The Chief Librarian at AMK Library was Mrs Mavis Richards. She had a passion for books, with a great passion to share that passion with children and teenagers. She encouraged me to do reviews for children books and was always dumping books upon books on my table for me to read -- and review. I admired her spirit. She was a no-nonsense boss, but warm -- and fair.

Every library officer had to do story telling. For me, those sessions always turned out a shouting match. How do you read and make yourself heard above the din? I usually ended playing some kind of games with the kids in the closed room -- with parents pressing their noses onto the small glass panes at the door.

A token story would be read by me (with no one listening) and then it was game time! One of my favourite games (and the kids' too, it seemed) was "Two Little Black Birds". The kids would sing the song "Two little black birds sitting on the wall, one named Peter, one named Paul. Fly away Peter, fly away Paul... Come back Peter, come back Paul."

As the kids sitting on the floor sang, two of them would act the part of Peter and Paul. They perched on two chairs in front, flapping their wings wildly... and hopped down to fly away at the end of the song. Some flew back to the chairs and had to be chased away because there were others queuing up to be Peter and Paul.

Actually Mrs Richards wasn't very keen for games to be played during storytelling sessions. And strange enough, when she told stories, the kids were as silent as could be, listening attentively. Maybe I just did not have the demeanor...and the stature of a librarian.

We also took turns to sit at the duty desk, answering all sorts of queries -- from where the toilets were to where books on China were shelved. You always get a kick out of satisfying someone by giving him exactly what he needed.

However, for me, the evenings could stretch on rather too tediously sometimes, with no interesting requests. It would be a blah evening indeed when even the usual mad caller did not ring in to scold the librarian over some nonsensical issues.

So on such days, just about half an hour before closing time, I would have the library attendants collect "stray" books from the tables and putting them onto trolleys to be shelved -- and I think it was ok for them to do this with some noise too -- a subtle message for everyone to pack up. Some who were sleeping over their books would have to be nudged awake by whispering loudly "closing time!" into their ears.

The last book would return to its rightful shelf at 8.50pm. The lights would be off at 8.55pm. The 2nd last lock would click at 8.56pm. The last shutter and lock slipped into place exactly at 9pm -- and then HOME!

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