April 2004–While I was driving to work, I thought about the Humble driver that collided with the dreaded MetroRail train. He was the 15th person to collide with the train since November 2003. I pass MethodistHospital , where my mother used to work, and approach a stop sign. Texas Women’s University was to my left and Baylor was to my right. I still do not know my way around Texas Medical Center, “one of the largest incorporated medical centers in the world,” because it is like a maze where you cannot escape. Trees lined the streets as I approach the library.
The front of the library looks something like a hotel. There is an overhead covering and it is sort of like a loading/unloading area, but that is near the back of the building. I guess the entrance is similar to a hotel because the owner of the library wants to make you feel welcome, as if the library itself were welcoming me, making me feel like I were at home. “Welcome to the Houston Academy of Medicine – Texas Medical Center Library,” the building would say.
Actually the front of the building is used as a place to drop off books that have been checked out. As I enter the library, a gust of cool air hits my face and seems like it runs through my whole body. In the summertime, that breeze refreshes me like I’ve been rejuvenated. I walk up the stairs and through the security thing; I forgot what it was called. I see endless rows of books and magazines. I know the place is a library, but damn, so many books consume the area like a virus. The books seem to spread from one little area to another. It’s crazy. I turn left toward the front desk and walk around it. Two doors block my path as I stop to grab my ID card from my pocket and put it in front of a scanner next to the left door, which lets me gain access to inside the front desk area, so I can clock in. The time says 9:57 a.m. as the coffee waves reach my nose. My boss is here. “Hey PJ,” he says as he takes a sip of his coffee. “Hey Jesse,” I say as I go to the back of the library. I take a book cart and start to pick up stray magazines. When I go to the photocopy area, I see that either the shift before me didn’t do their work or there really was somebody who used all these magazines. The mess was like a Picasso painting. Everything was cluttered around and it took me a while to finish. As I put the last magazine on the cart I look at it. “JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association” I think that’s what it said. The magazine was relatively new because I did not see any creases or anything. I have never seen a magazine so formal. It was almost like an encyclopedia. I leave the photocopy room and turn left. I walk past a large study area for maybe 20-30 people, if full, and look left. It was a straight path with bookshelves on each side. It looked something like the matrix, with never-ending books instead of guns. I walk past the bathrooms on the right and stand in front of the water fountain. My mouth feels dry, as if I hadn’t had anything to drink for days. I take a sip and the cool water slides down my throat like when a snake swallows its prey.
As I go into another area, I see a woman that is sleeping on a desk. Perhaps she has been studying for a long time. I move on and encounter row upon row of bookshelves. Some books were out of place so I just put them back on the shelf feeling the near invisible dust clinging to my skin as if it were hanging on for dear life. After we put all the magazines in alphabetical order, we have to scan them. This is to make sure nobody takes any magazines out of the library. An incessant beeping noise can be heard from a little box, maybe about the size of my hand. How can something so small make a sound that bounces off every wall? Some people tend to get annoyed if they’re sitting close to the scanner and they move to another place like the other side of the room. As Leslie and I finish scanning the books, Aurelia, our supervisor tells us to check the shelves in the archive section upstairs to make sure everything is in order. We walk away from the scanner and walk past the stairs in the middle of the room, which leads downstairs, and walk into the elevator. This elevator has been in this library for as long as I can remember. The elevator doors close and it rises up slowly until it reaches the desired floor where then it feels like the ground shakes for a second.
The doors open and unlike downstairs, which is very vibrant, the archive section, seems to be a darker room even though it is well lit. Perhaps the color of the jungle green walls gives the room its melancholy feeling. I walk out of the elevator and see many more shelves overflowing with books. I think there are more books and shelves than there were downstairs. The computer stands in the middle of the hallway. Only people who need to find an archive use it. Like many other people in the library, it is quiet and alone. It yearns for somebody to use it so it just sits in the middle of the hallway, waiting. I use that computer sometimes when I do not see my boss or supervisor or when I have no more work to do. Past the computer, I turn left and straight ahead to “my section” that I am supposed to maintain. All we do is make sure all the books are in order and make the shelves look neat so that when someone wants to get a book, it will be easier for them to find it. The archive section has many desks spread around for people to use to study or read or whatever. There is also a large area past “my section” where there are couches and lounge chairs and more desks. When I look at that area, the light permeates through the glass and bounces off the floating dust so you can see how “clean” the place is or I guess that is how most places are. When I check the section I’m supposed to maintain, I see that the people who previously used the shelf did not put the books back on the shelf. As I check to see whether the books are in alphabetical order, my eyes start to feel very heavy. I did not sleep much the night before because I had been studying the night before for a test I had later on this very day. Near the middle section of bookshelves is the photocopy area. This room is very messy much like the photocopy area downstairs. Stacks and stacks of books can be seen lying on the middle table and stray papers rested on the floor. We did not clean up the room or anything because we would do that after lunch.
When I was downstairs I noticed an area near the back exit that was rusted and nothing was being used. This was the area that was affected by the flood of Tropical Storm Allison. The water rose four feet higher than the projected level of a 100-year flood. Many of the rare books that were displayed in a benefit for the Kelsey-Seybold Foundation were also ruined in the flood. Hopefully there will not be another flood like Allison again.
After lunch I went back upstairs to the archive section and Leslie, Mark (another co-worker I failed to mention), and I started cleaning up the photocopy room. I started to pick up useless sheets of paper when I noticed that the trash can was overflowing with paper. What is there to do? I took my size 11 foot, placed it on top of the paper stack, and started pushing down on it. The stack shrunk like when you push an accordion together. The room was so messy that I almost tripped on one of the carts in the back of the room. Unlike the rest of the area, the photocopy room was painted white. A feeling of someone watching me came and gone because if you look closely there is a camera right outside the room atop one of the bookshelves. The reason the feeling was gone was because the camera does not work. As we collect the innumerable amount of books, we place them in the sorting section of the archives. There were so many books that the shelves filled up like water in a cup and more books had to be placed on the floor. After sorting out, the books are put on carts and after the carts, the books can then be re-shelved. It doesn’t matter who does which books as long as they are put back properly. This is probably the most productive thing we do all day. We get a thirty minute break where then I go to my dad’s office below the main floor. I leave my cart where it is and take the same old elevator to the basement. This time the elevator creaked while it was moving and I was a little bit worried even though it sometimes makes that noise. I scan my ID card to get through the double doors as they are magnetically locked and for thirty minutes, I usually just chill in my dad’s office playing pool on Yahoo! Games, but in this case, I slept in a chair. Fortunately, my dad had an alarm in the office. If not for the alarm, I would have gotten in trouble.
After finishing up what seemed like endless carts of books, I made sure that “my section” was nice and clean so that Aurelia wouldn’t tell me to clean it up. Almost every time, I sit in the big area of the archive section until 4:30, when my shift ends. I sat there relieved that all the work was done and that I survived the grueling task of shelving books. My job’s not as easy as it seems. Nothing is easy as it seems.
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