Friday, January 27, 2023

The Soapbox: The Left Behind Library

The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.—Albert Einstein

Last winter I personally toured the campus where I had picked up a little pandemic souvenir degree from what I affectionately dubbed as Zoom University. The mother ship of our research was the Noel Memorial Library, where I visited in person during the grey winter only to find the building was left behind, lonely, without a soul in its coming and going. The lights were dark as the campus students were on semester break.

Known as a select depository for many U.S. Government documents, the Noel Memorial Library is home to some of the greatest antiquarian books in the United States. But that was not how we, the Zoom University students, had come to know it. Rather, until then, it was known only by URL.

The transitioning library in the digital age is so wonderfully bringing knowledge to the imaginations of readers around the world. Yet, I hold the hope that the feeling created by a good old-fashioned library, with its reading nooks, will stand the test of time. Cataloguing memories through the years of my love relationship with the bibliothèque, I became tickled while thinking of how so many library-themed pubs around the world had saved many a college student who had to report in to Mom of their whereabouts when they didn’t answer their phone for hours.

I remembered the hype of the “Left Behind” book series about the end times when as a young Suburban-driving Mama I accidentally bottlenecked the entire church library’s waiting list when Book Number 2 was lost somewhere on the floorboard underneath some aging french fries and Buzz Lightyear. The church librarian was not happy. As a slow reading deep thinker, I may have actually been banned from future check outs of books with sequels, though I was too busy to know for sure during that season of my life.

Then, there was the time that the Bartlett Public Library in Memphis removed Jesus, Mary, and Joseph from our public nativity display, leaving only a poorly lit petting zoo, and Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly were blowing up my phone to get an interview about the 2005 war on Christmas. I was in the local Super-Walmart buying six white pre-lit Christmas trees before white was the trending color of every millennial wall and sofa. This was back in the day when there was still an organic paging system over the intercom and I remember randomly hearing something like, “If there is a Brandi Chambless in the store, can you please pick up on Line 1.” Once I subsequently made my way to one of those black old-timey phones with the long cord, I picked up to hear my then husband, frantic, saying that I had to get to church immediately because there were 48 media outlet trucks with satellites waiting to get an interview about the leftover petting zoo at the local library.

In spite of the librarian having to haul baby Jesus back into the display, upon the Mayor’s and the nation’s urging, we remained as friends post-petting zoo escapade. This love relationship extended to one of the most beautiful sister libraries for a Mama with a young reader where a little stained glass house was built inside the children’s library. My preschooler and I spent hours leaned back on pillows reading book after book, then taking some home until next time.

In the following decade, it became apparent that the books that were being highly rewarded for the contents were those that were promoting a different kind of agenda. Libraries begin offering reading hours to men dressed like women. That was all changing since the days of the little stained glass house. So, I scheduled some reading hours of my own with the children, dressing up in my own blue wig and fancy frock, after publishing four children’s books for young readers. It was my contribution to the former way of life and the wholesome experience we had shared. For the first time this month, I signed and shipped off those same books where they were catalogued into my local library. I never sought to get a gold sticker on the outside of my books, but just wanted to learn the industry so I could be an influencer for it to stand uprightly with the contributions of one ordinary Mama.

Recently taking a trip down memory lane, I visited the old church library after some 20 years where I heard the news that Sister Librarian has gone on to glory. I retrieved that Book Number 2 and opened it up and there was my name. Brandi Chambless (was here). January 2003. There weren’t even any grease stains from the french fries. I smiled, thought better of checking it out lest Sister Librarian come and pull my toes in the night, then I placed the book back on the shelf, came home and downloaded it out of respect. I’ll come back soon to the library, I thought. See you again, old friend. I can’t tell you what you have meant to me through the years.

Brandi Chambless
Brandi Chambless
Read Brandi's column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.

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