In my line of work, there are always folks who want to donate their used books and magazines to the Library. They hope that we can use them, distribute them, take the bundles, boxes and bags quickly off their hands and absolve them of the anxiety of having printed matter that they just can’t bring themselves to dispose of in any other way. For example, there was the time that one of the huge corporations affiliated with our school decided to dismantle their business library, phoning me up to “give” the Library the volumes they were discarding. It was in the middle of the day, I was distracted, and, ultimately, there is just too much of the Midwestern bargain-hunter gene in me to say no to donated anything, particularly books. When the books arrived unannounced a couple weeks later, there was another phone call in the middle of the day during one of my research lessons, demanding that I drop everything and organize a concierge and a cart to go get the boxes out of someone’s van. Quickly, please, I’m in a rush, they made clear. The boxes were loaded and thrust into my Library and they were full to the brim of outdated, highly technical, absolutely unusable business books that I ended up sorting and recycling and vowing all the while never to accept donation offers again sight unseen.
This past Friday was a day where I was running from one lesson or committee meeting or appointment to another as usual in my Library when the phone rang. It was our school’s reception desk, and there was a gentleman waiting there who wanted to know if we would like to have a bag of Smithsonian and American Heritage magazines. I look over at the clock above the door, it’s 1:10 and my 1:1 laptop committee meeting that I’m co-chairing starts at 1:30 p.m. My mind struggles for a good reason to say no thank you, go away and take your magazines to the recycling center outside the Albert Heijn. There is no polite way to do that. So I sigh and tell the nice woman at the front desk that I’ll be out to see what I can do. I enter the reception area, and an elderly gentleman with a cane is there, distant light blue eyes, uncertain smile. I knew immediately that I would take the magazines, though I didn’t want them. The magazines were out in his car in a carrier bag, but he wasn’t able to bring them in himself. OK, I made a move to go out with him. He stopped me and said that his wife wanted to keep the bag. OK, so I had to run back to the Library for a sturdy bag. It’s 1:15 p.m. I highjacked an IB Art student from his architectural drawing to go out with the man and bring in the bag full of magazines. Then I trotted off to my meeting.
This afternoon I opened up the bag and took them out. They were bundled together with 3 massive rubber bands, Smithsonians from 2006, 2007, 2008, a couple American Heritages, a couple random technology ones as well. There’s something about the old gentleman that reminded me of my grandfather, I think it was the hitch in his hip or back that made him stand crooked yet defiant like my Grandpa used to. I could imagine him in his neat Dutch house taking the time to put aside his magazines for the school, carefully wrapping the rubber bands around them width and lengthwise, taking them out to the car in his wife’s shopping bag, driving them to the school, telling me that their children used to go to school here, and then dropping his eyes to his cane when he has to tell me that he can’t bring in the magazines from the parking lot on his own. So I started sorting them out by year and magazine in the dusky light of the Library on a Saturday afternoon with no kids and no teachers to distract me. And instead of resenting the magazines, I found myself enjoying opening them up and getting intrigued by their covers. I started flipping through the stack and the eyes of a Nigerian giraffe on the November 2008 cover of a Smithsonian magazine stared me down and I found myself browsing contentedly through the issue, finding Julia Alvarez’s article about her home town in Weybridge, Vermont, folding the article back and sticking it in my bag to take home and read tonight. I’m glad I answered the phone this time.