Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Channeling my mom

I guess it's unusual to travel 500 miles to attend a bridal shower, but now that I work part time, I can do this sort of thing. And it gave me an excuse to visit Ian, who is well, although frustrated by a roommate who watches TV constantly.

Here is something that happened to Ian and me in Buffalo: We tried to get him a public library card-- something I thought would be simple and straightforward but turned out to be a process of Byzantine complexity. Oh sure, he can use the library at his school, but the Buffalo & Erie County Libraries is an excellent system. My chief amusement when we lived in Buffalo was to visit the downtown library every Saturday and stagger home with more books than I could carry. One memorable winter day when I was hugely pregnant with Grace, I was browsing in the new fiction when two-year old Brigid pointed a fat finger at a bald, bespectacled, big-nosed man and screamed, "MOMMY! MOMMY! I SEE GANDHI!"

Anyway, Ian and I presented ourselves at the circulation desk of the main library downtown with his student ID and his passport (he doesn't have a driver's license yet). The young man at the desk looked worried. He disappeared to consult his supervisor. "Student cards," he told us helpfully, "are the most complicated." We would need to provide a receipt for Ian's tuition. (Proof that we had "done business" in Erie County.) We would need to provide a copy of his current class schedule. (Proof that he really is a current student.) We would need to provide a copy of his dorm assignment. (Proof of a local address.) This is the modern age, all these documents were accessible on-line and this library doesn't require that you have a library card in order to use their computers. It took a little while to find a computer that was free and I had trouble with the printer,  and I accidentally wasted $0.10 making a photocopy of nothing, but eventually we were able to return to the circulation desk with all the proofs they required.

This time, we were called to the desk by a different employee. I said, "My son is a student at Canisius College but his permanent address is in Virginia. He would like a library card. Here is his student ID. Here is is passport. Here is proof that we paid his tuition. Here is a copy of his class schedule. Here is a copy of his dorm assignment." I laid each of these documents on the desk in front of her as I named them. She said, "Who told you that this was how you could get a library card?" I pointed to the young man who'd served us originally. "Oh, him," she said. "He's a newbie." Then she disappeared to consult her supervisor.

When she came out she said, "Is his permanent address listed on his passport?" Doh! We realized that passports do not list one's address. "But I have my driver's license," I said. "It has our current address on it. He lives with me." She said, "Is he 18?"  When I affirmed that he is, she said, "Sorry, no good." She went back to consult the supervisor again. It looked like we actually were going to be DENIED a library card.

It was clear that I needed supernatural help. I decided to channel my mom. My mother died many years ago, but when she was alive, public libraries were her personal cause. When Erie County threatened to close the branches in our town, she formed a grassroots group called "Citizens to Save the Libraries"--made up almost entirely of women-- and they did, indeed save the libraries. That was in the 1970s. If anyone could cut through all this red tape, it was her. I said a prayer to my mom. The library lady returned. She looked at us for a moment, somewhat abashed. Would she turn us away? Would we have to leave the library, defeated, $0.70 the poorer with nothing but a wasted hour and a pile of useless papers? The library lady's facial expression changed. She seemed to have come to a decision. "Well," she said, "I'm not really supposed to do this, but because I like you, I'll let you have a library card."


  1. "because I like you" ... sounds to me like perfect Erie County public sector logic if you ask me...

  2. Your two year old knew who Gandhi was??

    Your mom sounds pretty fantastic.

    P.S. Your children have really lovely names.

  3. The Ghandi story SLAYS me!
    I think that libraries should run purely on a grace system. All cards for all people in all circumstances.

  4. I am the director at the Canisius College Bouwhuis Library. I was not aware of this problem for our students, but we’re going to try to fix it.