Learning the meaning of public service.

This morning, I attended a meeting of a coalition of local organizations who provide services for people who are unstably housed. I was glad for the opportunity to listen to how the members of these organizations are supporting our community, and I was especially touched by how a couple of these members reached out to me to thank the public library for our part.

Way back when, in my first library job, I had no idea what librarianship was really about. (I cringe when I consider my very first library job interview; I probably said something lame like, “I love to read!”) I was barely cognizant of what customer service was, let alone public service. After a little over two decades, I am definitely still learning, especially as our field collaborates with social work, as in Whole Person Librarianship.

To date, the training that has helped me the most has been Ryan Dowd’s Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness. Ryan also has a weekly newsletter for tips on compassionate work with patrons experiencing homelessness. But better than any training is the affirmation like the kind I received this morning: there are people working hard to serve our community, and they appreciate all the help that we can give them.

If you want to get involved, here are a few organizations in eastern Washington County:

Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: a small tortoiseshell cat snoring.

bits of tid

People who dispense with niceties used to catch me off-guard. Before my current job, I expected a minimal exchange of greetings before a request for help. I wonder if, as a result, I have done away with my own greeting patter when I am out in the world. It does seem a bit superfluous at times, especially when we are all so furiously busy, scuttling between inputs like crazed crabs.

Because of this intensified pace, I become more conscious of how to phrase answers to questions without being condescending or curt. A dyslexic patron today obviously felt quite embarrassed for mixing up the microfilm for 1906 and 1960, and I wonder if my bland “no problem” response was sufficient, or made her feel lessened. I can’t imagine being dyslexic; so much of my daily life revolves around the written word.

Students who come up to the reference desk look as if they expect violence. Their eyes are wary, one hand neatly wrapped around the ubiquitous mobile, library card in the other gripped like a makeshift shiv. During reference interviews, sometimes they shift away from me to text someone: five minutes is too long to be in contact with only one person.


My new home is a palace, an oasis, a haven. I have an office all to myself with a door that opens onto a small patio. Soon I will break that in properly with a cup of tea and my writing notebook. The cats have not yet met formally, but there was an awkward moment with an accidental bathroom door opening and growls in two-part harmony. Neither one had flattened ears or fluffed tails, so I remain hopeful for their future status as Tugboat and Hambone, urban adventurers and best of friends.

Despite my bizarre affection for public transit, the N-Judah has already lost its shine for me, what with its random hiatuses and lame malfunctions and general chicanery. At least I always get a seat, and can doze off to podcasts for 30 (to 60) minutes. Whatever the case, each N trip is bookended by a library job and a home with my best friend, so I have no real complaints.


Namiki Vanishing Point RadenEven at 20% off, I could not afford the expense, but I tested this beauty for free during Flax‘s pen fair today. The Namiki Vanishing Point fountain pen excels in form as well as function, especially in the Raden finish, and I cheerfully anticipate the momentous occasion that its purchase will punctuate.

These are the only tidbits I can sift out from my addled brain this evening. Happy Mother’s [sic] Day, mothers, especially to my own, who will meet FunkyPlaid for the very first time when she hits town in five days!