Thursday, April 09, 2009

It's Mrs. Allen's fault

Someone just asked why I decided to become a librarian. And I told them that it was Mrs. Allen's fault. It is.

Mrs. Allen was our elementary librarian. She was also a family friend, as she had taught my dad at the Sunnydale school, the country school that Dad and all his siblings attended. In fact, Sunnydale was the last country school in Meade County, and Mrs. Allen was the last teacher. After Sunnydale was closed, Mrs. Allen taught in Englewood, where she taught my Aunt Sandy and many other people in our community. When the school consolidated with Ashland, Mrs. Allen became the grade school librarian, and thus was my librarian.

Mrs Allen was a small woman. She did not stand 5 feet tall. And she was tiny. Tiny bones, tiny features. She looked like a 60-some year old doll to me. She might have been a tiny woman, but she was strong, and stern. You didn't talk back to Mrs. Allen--she was one tough cookie!

I was in second grade, and I already loved to read and help Mrs. Allen. In fact, if you were good, she'd let you help process new books. I remember helping by gluing the pockets in the back of books and putting the check out cards in them. I felt so important doing that work! I liked watching her label books too. At that time, she still utilized that black "stuff" that was painted on the bottom 2 inches of a spine. Then she'd take a white stylus, or pen type of thing, and carefully write the call number on the spine. At times, she'd let me paint the black "stuff" on the spine. You had to be real careful because it could stain, and you had to stop at just the right spot. I can only remember doing that job once, probably because it was messy.

Sure wish I knew what that stuff was called. It wasn't long after that year when everyone switched to typed labels. I don't think you can even buy that black "stuff" anymore.

Anyway, I liked going to the library. And I loved helping Mrs. Allen. One day, I was shelving Easy Readers for her and noticed that all the books were at the front of the bookshelf, leaving all this empty space at the back of the shelf. Well, that didn't make sense to me, so I pushed all the books to the back of the shelf.

Mrs. Allen came by at that time and got very upset with me. She made me stop (I'd pushed back 2 shelves full of books.) I was mortified. I'd done something very wrong, and I was in trouble. And, what's worse, it was Mrs. Allen who was upset with me. She made me re-face the books on the shelf. In other words, she made me put all the books on the shelf as they should be, at the end of the shelf, with all spines lined up neatly at the edge of the shelf. I had to fix the two shelves I had messed up, and I had to do 2 more shelves, just as reinforcement.

But, the nicest thing about it was that while she disciplined me, she also took the time and explained why library books were shelved that way, turning this disciplinary action into a teaching moment.

I think it was her explaining why something was done that way made me curious about why other things were done a certain way. And, from that moment on, I wanted to be a Librarian. And, from that moment on, I've been picky about how books on a shelve should look. It's almost an obsession now, I have to stop and re-face a shelf if I see it's contents aren't lined up perfectly with the end of the shelf.

So, I guess I can blame two things on Mrs. Allen...1. Me becoming a librarian, and my obsessive-compulsive need to have shelves neat and tidy.

This is totally not related to me...but it's a Mrs. Allen story.

Mrs. Allen was the new teacher when Dad was in 4th grade. After school one afternoon, early in the year, as he was leaving, she asked Dad what he had learned that day. "Nothing" was his response. Mrs. Allen looked at him and said, "Well, if you didn't learn anything today, I guess you'd better stay until you do learn something."

And, he had to stay after school.

Dad says he learned his lesson--and whenever Mrs. Allen asked him if he'd learned anything that day, or what he'd learned that day, he had an answer!

Mrs. Allen is gone now, she's been gone for a very long time. But, this tiny woman is remembered. And, that matters.

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