Opening New Doors
Updated: Mar 27
I open the heavy, double doors and enter a gigantic, open space, inhaling the warm stimulating atmosphere. There is no stress or pressure. Not here. Not now. I look at all the new friends I have made. There are thousands of them. They don’t demand anything from me. However, if I choose to, I can read one of them.
My husband was not working at the time when I received a call to ask if I would be willing to fill in for a school librarian going on holidays at an exclusive all-boys school. Given our financial situation I gave an enthusiastic yes! I also had a quiet chuckle to myself. In my mind I was a far cry from being your “stereotypical female librarian”. I wasn’t over 50. I didn’t wear my hair in a tight bun. I didn’t have any plaid or tartan cardigans. I didn’t have chained spectacles hanging around my neck. I did not enjoy putting things in alphabetical order and I couldn’t remember the last time I had finished reading a book! By taking the job I thought I was doing the school a favour.
The task not only required me to lend and take back books, but also read to the students and engage them in the material. As a qualified primary school teacher, I thought it would be a breeze. But on the first day I was almost blown over as the library’s double doors violently flew open, and all the boys came rushing in. Even though they were in suits and ties they were loud and boorish. They continued to push and trip each other over in a race for the best spot on the floor near the heater. They sat down in front of my chair and some struggled to cross their long, awkward legs. I could tell that they didn’t want to be there. According to the teachers in the staffroom my first lesson on the timetable was the worst class and the oldest in the school. I wasn’t used to teaching the older age groups, nor had I ever taught at an all-boys school.
With the strong aroma of restless, pubescent males now filling the air, it also reminded me that being an all-boys’ school they loved their sport over everything else. Mr Mansi was their favourite teacher because he was the Sports’ Master. Would these kids really want to visit my book club at lunchtime or listen to my library author talks instead of running on the field and kicking a football around? This point seemed to be confirmed as they continued talking as if I wasn’t even in the room. I could feel my stomach filling with butterflies and felt my neck getting warm from nerves as I sat in the chair clutching my novel.
Usually at the start of a lesson I make sure the students are quiet and focused before I begin. Not this time. There was nothing left to do but take a deep breath and read. The moment the words passed from my lips, the kids stopped talking and watched me. Much to my surprise they didn’t move a muscle for the whole session and respectfully left the library in an orderly procession.
Perhaps it was because I did my research beforehand. I found authors and topics that were appropriate and interesting for the boys at each age group. I also asked the previous librarian for advice on what were the best books for each age group. I wanted the boys to be engaged and connected to what I was reading.
A few days later I got the second indication that this policy was working. I would bump into my students on the playground and they would run excitedly over to me and say things like,
“Hey Miss, what is going to happen next in the story?”
“Miss, I’ve started reading another book from the same author you read us at home because he was so good.”
I got a real surprise when the toughest rugby boy in the school ran up to me and said,
“Hey Miss, I can’t wait for you to read the next chapter this week in the library!”
I realised that so many children are not read to at home and that so many children loved being read to, even the older students.
Gradually the job began to have a positive effect on me too.
Being surrounded by literature all day inspired me to read again. As I shelved the books, one would catch my eye and I would slip it into my handbag to take home. Suddenly, I was making time to read before bed, something I hadn’t done in ages. Then I started reading in the bath, at the hair salon or on my lunch break. I also started reading novels without illustrations to my own children in bed at night. We would escape into an imaginary world together, just the four of us and it was wonderful!
Today the library doors open again with a new shipment of books. I feel so excited, like I am about to open a Christmas present. I slice the cardboard box open, remove the brown paper and unwrap the new books inside. I bend back the crisp covers and carefully caress the smooth pages with my fingers. As I let the aroma of the fresh paper take over my senses, I have a little chuckle to myself.
I took the job thinking that I was doing the school a big favour, but now I’ve discovered that they were doing me the big favour all along.