Old Dogs, New Tricks?

I work in the library milieu.  The statement still conjures the stereotypical imagery: large rooms, countless books, narrow aisles between the shelves, the soft sounds of turning pages, and the stern warning glares from the bespectacled matron at the huge wooden desk.  Enter, if you dare.

Oh, how welcoming!  And we wonder why it’s so hard to encourage visitors to our dusty halls, do we?  Perhaps we have Hollywood and television to thank for this throwback image; Nic Cage did his best, but it’s Marian the Librarian who leaps to mind when the subject of librarians and/or libraries comes up.

The reality is always so different, but to make this discovery bridges must be built between libraries and schools, between libraries and businesses, between libraries and communities, and — most importantly these days — between libraries and the virtual world.

We’ve been here right along, thanks to online catalogs and databases, but these are passive presences.  We put them up and leave them to be found, explored, used, and forgotten, with the mistaken assumption that a few pretty colors or clever arrangements of words will suffice.  Even adding new and marvelous portals from our sites to other databases of vast knowledge and resources quietly awaits discovery rather than announcing itself.   We’re just too used to being quiet in the library!

So, the new trick is to find a voice, here in the virtually silent virtual reality.  Enter the world, learn the language, and find our new way into the old job of providing information.  Some trick.

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Lunacy

Not long after I met my husband Galahad, I met his best friend — Gaheris. Back then, Galahad had lots of shaggy dark hair and a reddish-black beard and mustache. Since this also described Gaheris exactly, they perfectly fit the term “twin sons of different mothers.”

Galahad and Gaheris graduated together — same high school, same year — but didn’t really become close friends until they enrolled at the local community college. Gaheris soon became a father and husband, and since he was only 18 at the time he has often said he and his child grew up together. By the time I met Gaheris, they were about age 5.

Since laws pay more attention to date of birth than to maturity, Galahad and Gaheris invested in fishing licenses every year and went smelting. Smelt are small freshwater fish that prefer deep water until Spring, when they rush upriver by the thousands to spawn. This is the time to harvest these tasty guys, by way of dip-net fishing.

Gaheris knew to watch for the full moon in the month of May, which helped to illuminate the silver flash of the fish — the runs took place at night. Galahad insisted that we wives would have a wonderful time coming along on this outing, and I hadn’t known these guys long enough to realize the full value of their opinions. Midnight in May can be fun, until you are soaking wet, reeking of fish, and freezing.

What did I learn? Ask for details before agreeing to any outing. I wound up sitting on the shore with a bottle of blackberry brandy helping me towards numbness. Not only was I freezing, I was terrified: we were near a power station on one of the Finger Lakes, where the security floodlights were so bright that places where they did not shine were plunged into profound darkness, all night vision destroyed. We had to negotiate our way along the top of a gravel bank that dropped nearly straight down to the lake below. I can’t swim, but it didn’t matter, since the fall would have killed me.

Galahad and Gaheris were having a jolly time already, leaving the driving to the wives so that they could freely fortify themselves with alcohol. Since alcohol does not freeze, making sure there was plenty of it in their systems was one way to prevent themselves from freezing. Several beers later, the time had arrived. Gaheris donned chest waders, but Galahad did him one better: a wetsuit, which would allow him to venture further out into the waters. The wives waited on shore with the buckets: each fishing license allowed us to take home a 5-gallon bucketful of fish — and not one fish more. We were careful to watch our limits because the fine for exceeding them was $15 per fish.

Out in the water, the ritual began. Gaheris announced the sighting, yelling “Git ’em! They’re running!” at the top of his lungs. This signaled the start of the hunt. The next step was the challenge: as each man caught his first smelt, he would grab it from the net, bite off its head, and spit it back at the rest of the smelt in defiance. The theory was, this would infuriate the smelt and they would rush to avenge their fallen comrades — straight into the waiting dip-nets. After a while, I felt pretty certain I knew why they called it a dip net, and it had nothing to do with submerging the device in water.

The night ended, no human life was lost, and we spent the bulk of the next day recovering from hangovers whilst cleaning hundreds of little fish.

A few weeks later, when we’d returned home an hour north, Galahad got a phone call from Gaheris, who said he’d been to a local bar, listening to the old guys swapping tales. One piped up with the story of some damn fool yahoos yelling “Git ’em! They’re running!” and biting the heads off their fish. Gaheris agreed with the speaker that some idiots just shouldn’t be allowed out unsupervised.