Sunday morning, 1997.

Worked seven days in a row–me and all who remain, filling-in work shifts for those who have quit during the course of this upward learning spiral.

There was an EMO from Theron a few days ago warning about the system being down on Saturday. He would be installing system upgrades and couldn’t really say how long it would take.

Joan and Jamie were in giddy hysteria when I saw them in the break room. The two of them had been running the Circulation department all morning, using pens and paper to manually check-in and check-out books. Then they got onto the proposed changes for the Staff Association and were falling over in their chairs laughing, at separate tables. I finally had to get out of there, preferring to re-shelve a cart of books in Storage rather than try to match their madcap humor.

Jamie, 22, all polyester, eating candy. Joanie, twice Jamie’s age, all natural tones, eating a baked potato, left over from Thursday’s Baked Potato Lunch Party.

Theron wandered into Storage, completely disheveled and smiling. His hair was standing up like waves. “I’ve been on the phone all day with CLSI,” he said. “They say ‘try this.’ I do it, and it doesn’t work, and they say, ‘Okay, here’s another one.'”

Theron looks like he’s been having great sex all day with a beautiful stranger. That same deshabille and crazy look. He wanders out again, ready to have another go.

Back upstairs, Linda T. and I plan our divorce; henceforth, I will be managing Periodicals without her. She will manage public PCs. Linda created a computer sign-up system that can be controlled from either of our desks. I talked to Kevin about furniture. Elevatored down to IT to get floor plans for the new layout. Theron was there–on the phone again–speaking calmly, rationally, and making faces at me.

Borrowed a measuring tape from Maintenance. Walked around upstairs measuring things, pacing off steps, imagining cubicles. Whited-out some lines on the floor plan and penciled-in new ones.

Linda T. was making up a list of names for her 10 pcs. I suggested mythical heroes. She went with philosophers: Plato; Socrates; Hypatia; Boethius, Marcus Aurelius, Descartes, Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel, and Bertrand Russell.

Who the heck is Hypatia?” I said.

“Hypatia?” says Linda. “A woman philosopher who lived in Alexandria and was murdered by Christians.”

Faith is working on the schedule in the back office and humming: “…if I only had a brain.” A few minutes later, Amanda is whistling snatches of the same song.


Nanci comes out of the Staff Bathroom in bare feet and with wet hair. “Now my hair dryer’s not working,” she whines.

“The Barefoot Contessa,” says Mike Sulley, sitting at the kitchen table with his brother David, visiting from Silver Spring, Maryland. “He’s a deacon in a Catholic Church,” Mike wants us all to know. And you know how he feels about that.

Now Nanci is frying bacon and eggs for herself and the boys. I decline. Karen calls in and says she wants some.


“I can’t really pick up stuff,” says Mike about the physical therapy for his mangled hand. “It’s more of a platform and a gripper. There’s no real strength there.”

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Melissa R. is on PC#14, her thick and lustrous red hair done up in a brioche, wearing a thrift store Vargas Girl outfit of her own devise. PC #15 is occupied by a muscle-bound brute in a tank top signed in as JAZMANN. Tattooed onto the back of his shaved and shining head: Melissa’s King.

Melissa and Jazmann have brought 4 little girls with them, playing hide & go seek in the stacks. Now Melissa is sitting in Jazmann’s lap, his arms around her as he finishes his work on-line and gives her a squeeze. The children gather round, pleading to go outside.


The HOLD button is blinking–Penelope, working at the Mother Ship– waiting for Jane. Mindy, the new Community Service college girl, is also waiting for instructions from Jane. But Gordy has all Jane’s attention, dealing with Circulation SNAFUs. He stands there with his clipboard in his funeral director’s outfit, gravely nodding, nodding, nodding again. Dispatching with Gordy, Jane swiftly deals with Penelope and Mindy, then turns her full attention to me.

“Bob, I want you to tell me something,” says Jane, looking me in the eye.

Oh crap, I’m busted, is what I’m thinking. But for what?

“I need to know if you understand that e-mail I sent out to everybody. The one about transferring items when Main is closed? Where will library Holds be sent?”

“Pleasant Valley Branch?” I said, hazarding a guess.

“Yes!” Jane exclaims, high-fiving me, if you can imagine that little bowling-ball of a woman doing anything so athletic.

Then it’s time to check the Men’s Room, where I discover Vic and Nick talking about last night’s Trump vs Clinton Presidential debate. Based on Hilary’s debate performance, she seems certain of victory.

Vic:    It’s gonna be like Nixon when he said, ‘You’re not going to have me to kick around anymore.’ Can you imagine how he felt? How humiliated, to say something like that.

Bob:    That was the first televised presidential debate. And now it’s a circus.

Nick:    I wasn’t even born then.

Vic:    You’re not gonna have me to kick around anymore, Nixon said, and then he comes back a few years later and wins in a landslide. But with Trump, whether he wins or loses, we’re going to have him the rest of our lives!


R.R. from the Mother Ship is visiting lately, but is rarely seen. Somewhere out in the stacks, speed-weeding the law books and reference collection, filling up boxes with discards.

“Maybe two days worth of boxes in the back room,” R.R. says, in passing, on his way out the door. “And, uh, I found a guy sleeping back there. Stretched out on the floor behind some empty boxes. Sound asleep.”

R.R. smiled. In these stressful times of deconstruction, a rare event. Buttoned up R.R, he of the robotic posture and Aspy social skills, smiling.

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1st day of summer, 1997. Crossing the Ogden River every day when I bike to work, and again biking home. In the summer of his 45th year, still riding a bike. But this is new–crossing that river every day, back & forth & back again on the next day, and every week, every month, every year. Until the millennium, and beyond.

Twenty years from now, in 2017, I’ll be 65. That’s the plan. Keep biking back and forth across that river every day until 2017. And then?

(Fragment from a notebook discovered while cleaning out files in the basement.)

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“Ref. Desk. How can I help you?”

“Can you look up something for me on Wikipedia? The end of the world? When will that be?”

“You mean like The Final Days? I thought it was supposed to be 2012.”

“2012. Right. But that didn’t happen, so I’m sitting here wondering when the next best guess is. Could it be 2017?”

He sounded almost hopeful, like: Bring it on! Let’s get it over with.

“Jeez! I know things are bad,” I said, “but I don’t think it’s the end of the world.”

“Somebody told me 2030. Have you heard that anywhere? What’s it say on Wikipedia?”

“Well, I’m finding lots of Biblical References under End of Days, End Time. It says:

“A future time period of the eschatologies of several world religions. But it’s not giving a specific date.”

“Huh. Well, this trucker guy I know said it’s 2030. I’m an old trucker, and you know, a trucker never lies. ‘Cept to other truckers. Then we lie all the time. Haw! But I don’t drive anymore. I retired, but I still got my trucks. A 1974 Kenworth and a 1967 Peterbilt.”

“Wow. How many miles on that Kenworth?”

“Two-point-five-million miles.”

“That’s amazing.”

“That’s nothin’. I got three million miles on the Peterbilt.”

“Wow, they don’t make ’em like that anymore.”

“That’s for damn sure. I blame Reagan, that sonovabitch!”

“Well, I’m not finding anything about Final Days for 2030, but here’s one that says 2525.”

“2525? Really? What’s it say?”

“In the year 2525, if man is still alive, if woman can survive, they may find…in the year 3535, ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie.”

“Ain’t that the truth. You can’t believe anything you hear these days, especially what’s on the internet.”

“Look, um, we have to get back to this Reference thing we’re working on? Anything else I can look up for you?”

“Oh, sorry! That’s fine, you’ve been very helpful. Have a great day.”

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Rusty was wearing his Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt because it was Halloween. Madison was wearing a full length baggy black gown and striped necktie.

“What are you? A judge?” I said.

“That’s what I thought,” said Julio.

“I’m Harry Potter,” said Madison.”See?” Pulling a sparkly magic wand out of her sleeve and waving it at me. “Abra-cadabra! You’re a…what are you? A farmer? A lumber jack?” Giving me that puzzled look.

“I forgot about Halloween. That’s what happens when your kids grow up and move away.” I had been in the garden all weekend, absorbed in simple, mindful labor. Forgot about the real world, arriving just in time, wearing flannel shirt, jeans and boots.

Julio wasn’t wearing a costume unless you could call his daily attire of beige slacks and neatly pressed shirt a costume. Though he’s lived in Utah most of his life, Julio maintains his Mexican citizenship and dreams of retiring there. Fully adapted to life in el Norte, but steeped in traditions of proper behavior and dignity precluding foolish gringo customs. So much of American society seems a joke to Julio, he just shakes his head and laughs about his good fortune in being paid to participate…and translate for our latino patrons.

“Yo! Bob!” came a familiar husky voice. “I’ve got a cat convoy,” said Mama G., leading three cats on leashes toward the sign-in station for public ps. Cats wearing adorable hoodies. Mama G., a homeless dirty blonde, forty-something lady missing most of her back teeth so she speaks with flapping lips and a lisp, sporting a Green Bay Packers shirt and cap. “Gotta talk to you about something,” she said. “I’m still working on that lanyard I promised but howma gonna get it to you when this place closes? C’mon kitties,” she said. “Cut that out, Sphinxie! Quitit damnit!”

Following her procession to the lounge chairs, where  Mama G., comfortably seated and surrounded by cats, started pulling all kinds of crap out of her capacious shopping bags. “I got some new colors for you, see?” she said, holding up a fist full of plastic strings. “Blue, black, neon-green, and white. Seattle Seahawks, right?”

“Yeah, that’s my team. My sister lives in Seattle and my brother lives in Tacoma.”

“Go Seahawks. But yaknow if I could have one great wish in my life it would be to see the Packers play and be sittin’ on the fifty yard line.” She sighed. “There’s a six-hundred game waitin’ list, can ya believe it.”

She twirled the inch of finished lanyard, separating the jellyfish-like strings dangling down to the floor. “Sorry it’s not done yet,” said Mama G., setting to work, tugging on a string with her few remaining teeth to tighten the weave, squinting at it critically, appearing in profile to be a female version of Pop-Eye the Sailor Man. “I’ve been pretty busy lately, meeting with my case worker. Camping down by the river, you know, and it takes so long to get back to town across that damn bridge. Spend all day going back and forth, that’s why, but my case worker says the housing authority will get me a place. Maybe soon as next week. If I qualify. I haven’t had a drink in eighteen months! I’m not livin like that no more.”

“What about that motel you were staying at?”

“They kicked me out for fighting! Bastards. And the other place won’t let me come back, either. But my case worker’s great! He’s a retired police officer. That’s gotta help, doncha think? He’s got clout. So, howma gonna get this thing to you when it’s done?”

“I’ll be working at HQ. There’s going to be shuttle vans you can ride for free. But they won’t let you take your cats.”

“Ats no problem. I’ll take the city bus. Which one goes over there? Can you get me a schedule?”

Libraries have been called “museums of failed technologies.” After twenty years working in this one I realize that applies to me, too. A generation of digital natives have grown up since I filled out my first time sheet, which was an actual sheet of paper. Everything was on paper then. You could hold it in your hand. Life was graspable.

There used to be solid oak card catalogues filling this space where the four of us huddle behind a pair of vinyl-topped beige desks and generic pcs, one for each of us. Side by side and back to back, soldiers in a foxhole, making our daily last stand against the decline of western civilization in general and this building in particular. Madison and Julio monitoring the front door, Rusty and me keeping an eye on the nineteen remaining public pcs, and beyond them, our ever-diminishing core of books.

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Remember that scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where the lone remaining astronaut turns off all life support systems and floats around inside the memory bank of HAL the computer? Row by row, methodically dis-assembling HAL’s brain, refusing to pause or acknowledge HAL’s voice, until HAL says: “I’m scared, Dave.” HAL’s higher functions and memories are erased. He’s reduced to mindlessly singing the first thing he ever learned:

“Daisy, Daisy, tell me your answer true / I’m half crazy all for the love of you…”

It was kind of like that last year, when we started emptying the building, beginning with everything upstairs. Echoey. The wide-open space seemingly twice as big and its clean, Mid-century Modern lines revealed in architectural purity. This building and that ultra-modern movie both date to 1968.

Then came the great weeding and shuffling as all the books in basement storage were evaluated. Whole ranges of legal case history, local, state, and federal.  A hundred years of bound periodicals. Duplicate copies of classic works. Decades of administrative records. Fully loaded cart by cart, wrapped in yards of plastic, trundled down the hall, through Admin., around the corner and out to the loading dock.  Like a train of railway cars they came, pushed by pairs of library staffers no worse or better than you or me, and just forget about it if you needed to get to the bathroom because momentum is everything with that kind of brute labor. Stand back and salute–a parade is passing by.

One frosty morning last winter I arrived at the staff entrance, squeezed my bike through the gap between the moving truck and the building and pulled open the door…to be greeted a cart coming right at me driven by Julio and a middle-aged lady who shall remain nameless but clearly she was over-matched. Taking hold of the front grab bar, I helped them lift it over the threshold, onto the truck’s tailgate, and up to the willing hands of Bartleby and James, manning the truck, their steaming breath, lighted by the transparent roof, appearing greenish-grey.

“Thanks for the lift,” said James.

“Don’t think you’re getting in that way today,” said Bartleby.

“Coming through!” said Eleanora, cheeks flushed, back-braced, work jeans and boots, pushing a cart with a full head of steam.

For six months the big yellow truck was parked outside as two thirds of the building’s content was shipped to other branches or put in temporary storage. With spring came the opening of our new HQ across town and over the freeway. Out there past the airport, next to what used to be Iomega, adjacent to a city park and a new elementary school. Admin. moved out and most of processing. Madelyn and that other lady who worked there–you know, what’s her name? Oh yeah, Moonie. Good ol’ moon-faced Moonie. She of the sharp Asian-American wit, fashionista outfits, and Sundance Film Festival puffy vest. They were the the last to leave and for them it really was scary. Darkened hallways. No windows. Cables dangling from the ceiling.And then there was that flood. The whole building shorted out and had to be evacuated. Staff and homeless people standing around in the chilly morning sun, grousing for hours. When I showed up for my shift at noon, Moonie said, “They just told us all to take our lunch break. I guess that means you can come back in an hour?”

Receiving and cataloging new items never ends in a forward-looking library so Madelyn and Moonie were the last to go. Then the staircase was sealed-off, upstairs and down. It’s been a year now but people still come in, looking around, disoriented.

“Didn’t there used to be stairs here?”

“Where’s the computer center?”

“Where’s the auditorium? I’ve got a concert coming up and I need to practice on the  grand piano.”

“I’m here for the MENSA meeting? Downstairs? What have you done with the stairs?” They give you that stressed-out, paranoid look, like we’re hiding something from them intentinally.

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It is a little eerie working in a building undergoing deconstruction. Strange pounding sounds overhead alternate with high-pitched drilling. You’re trying to focus on organizing a cart of 300s with call numbers extending to ten digits and the floor is vibrating. Like working in a dentist’s office where the patient is a 50,000 square foot cast-concrete building undergoing complete dental reconstruction and seismic stabilizing. There were a few weeks this summer when it sounded like Washington Irving’s little men bowling at nine-pins up there. Lately, it’s changed to a rhythmic car wash whooshing sound as floors and walls are scrubbed clean.

New power plant, HVAC, plumbing, and a new elevator three times as large as the original. A coffee shop and new doorway to an amphitheater in the park. Administration and Processing have decamped to our new HQ in Roy freeing up acres of space in the basement for a vastly enlarged Computer Center and literacy/job/housing community outreach dept. They’re going to need somebody with a Sociology degree to run the place. But why-oh-why can’t we put up a Help Wanted bulletin board?

“Help Wanted bulletin board?” I remember L. laughing when I brought it up again. Like that’s ever going to happen in a public library. But sure, we’ll let you use our pcs all day if that’s what it takes to get a job these days.

Martin Luther King was assassinated on the library’s dedication day. A few months later, Bobby Kennedy was killed while trying to avoid exposure by passing through the underground kitchen of a hotel. There were riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. “The whole world is watching,” was the chant forever associated with events of 1968. It was a new idea at the time—revolution on tv. Now it happens every day, but we can choose to watch an infinite amount of anything else. That’s progress, right?

This building has good bones—it’s everything else that has to go, starting with that asbestos fire-proofing sprayed on the ceiling. The surfaces around the air vents are grey with pollution but impossible to clean without releasing clouds of asbestos fiber. Fresh air fans are running all the time, creating positive air pressure on this floor and negative air pressure on the other floors…

All gone now, up & downstairs, that’s why the stairs were sealed and sheet-rocked.

All that remains is jammed together here on the main floor. A week from today this building closes. One year from now we’re scheduled to re-open “in phases,” and be re-dedicated for another half century of service in April, 2018. That’s the scary part one has trouble accepting–that this semi-sentient being can be knocked-out, taken apart and put back together. Re-vivified better than new. If only that were true for humans, though I’m sure it’s for the best that we all must pass away.

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A generation has passed on the earth since I started and here I am, still attending General Staff Meetings, an entire day locked inside, under fluorescent lights, dealing with Information Professionals. No, they weren’t instituted until a couple years later when the new manager positions were created and “continuous learning” became a thing. That’s when they decided to lose the “Librarian” tag and became Information Professionals.

Here’s the thing about HAL losing his mind and reverting to singing a song about Daisy…I remember that song, too. I was in a grade school gymnasium assembly when somebody came to talk about The Future. Instead of hardware, The Future was going to be all about “software.” And they had an IBM computer to demonstrate it, capable of answering simple questions, and singing: “Daisy, Daisy, tell me your answer true…”

(to be continued…)