Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Mighty Fortress Is Their Library


This post is dedicated to Dewey, who always enjoyed hearing about my bizarre experiences here in Korea as I have repeatedly sought to improve my Library Situation.

The day of my interview with Wonder Woman University, I arrived on campus about 90 minutes early. Eager to interview? Well, of course, but (almost) more importantly, I wanted to check out their library. Luckily, there are many signposts at decent intervals because I walked by several campus guides dressed in smart little uniforms who took one look at me and immediately got that beseeching look that I know so well: Please. Oh, please. Don't ask me anything. Don't make me speak English.

As soon as I entered the library, I saw a fortress of turnstiles, but also noticed that students were scanning something to go through them. I approached the far corner of the Information desk. "Excuse me," I said. "Can I come in?"

Information Woman gestured a small rectangle. "Card? Card?"

"No, I don't have a card, but can I come in? I'm visiting your university today."

"No card?" Controlling her panic beautifully, she called for her assistant, a young man in his late 20s or early 30s. He spoke to me in English. "What do you want?"

"I'd like to come into your library. I'm visiting Wonder Woman University, just for today. I have a job interview, but I'm early, so I wanted to see your library."

"You don't work here?"

"No, just visiting." Maybe someday, I thought, then I'll be in here and underfoot every damn day. So there.

"You can come in, but you can't borrow any books."

"I don't want to borrow any books. I just want to see the library."

"You want to see it?" I thought he was going to ask me why, and I was trying to come up with a snappy, easily understood reason.

"Yes." Desperately. Look, Buddy -- you try going without a library for four frickin' years and see what kind of crazy things it makes YOU do!

He let me in and picked up the desk phone. "Who is your interview with?"

"No, it's not here -- it's over in She-Ra Building. I'm early."

"Oh!" He put the phone back. "You have time to kill!" By his smile, you could tell that he'd been sitting on that idiom for months, possibly years, waiting to use it. I idly wondered if working at a women's university was a dream come true for him, or if it was old hat by now.

"Where are the English books?" My time was being killed. Slaughtered, even.

"English books?" He was back to being perplexed.

"You know, like literature. I'm a professor." I tried to look professorial.

Deep thought. "Three floor," he announced, and walked me to the elevator.

When I got to third floor, I asked the student at the desk where the English books were, and she let out an exclamation of dismay.

If I hadn't come all that way and wasn't within spitting distance of my objective, I would've left in disgust. Come on, now, people. Work WITH me. I expected this deer-in-the-headlights behavior back in Gumi, but I was in cosmopolitan Seoul now. More specifically, this was Wonder Woman University, the Vassar (or so everyone had told me) of Korea!

After a quick conference with two other girls, Dismayed Girl took me by the hand and walked me around the corner and back a few feet. "Here and here," she said pointing. I thanked her, and she ran back to her desk, looking worried.

Alone in the stacks at last, I peered at the shelves. I couldn't make sense of the order. It was Dewey Decimal, but Dewey Decimal done by drunken cataloguers: Gulliver's Travels. David Copperfield. A Treasury of American Humor (1943). Gulliver's Travels. Gulliver's Travels. The Things They Carried. David Copperfield. Memoirs of a Geisha. Not as a Stranger. Gulliver's Travels. Gulliver's Travels (in Korean). The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Brave New World. David Copperfield.

Dismayed Girl ran back again, still looking worried. "At the end of this -- this line, there's more there." She pointed. I thanked her again and she ran back to the desk. She seemed to be rising to the occasion, but I felt guilty for being a foreigner and for being in her library and stressing her out.

Further investigation of the shelves yielded the same puzzling and repetitive arrangement, but even while I was laughing, a strange tenderness came over me. I would get hired here, and in my off hours, I'd come over and fix up the English books section! Obviously no one cared for it, but I would! Even at that moment, my fingers were on fire to pull books and start alphabetizing and getting chronological, but my time was running out. Too bad. I loved standing in the narrow aisles and breathing in that familiar and wonderful smell of old books, but I had to haul my bookwormy ass across campus to She-Ra Building and make like the job candidate of their dreams, and hopefully rectify my Library Situation once and for all.

8 comments:

myza said...

When my husband got the job at the university in Turkey, the first thing I did when I got here was check out the library. It is pretty good but strangely mixed up when it comes to where I find books. Some are alphabetized but some are by country and others are by favorites of students. So confusing.

raych said...

Ah ha ha ha! Oh Bybee. Nothing is more hilarious/hair-tearing than trying to communicate. Good luck on getting the library, er...job.

J.Danger said...

Oh I cant wait to hear how the interview went!

P.s.- that guy is stoked on HIS job!

Jeane said...

I wonder if you're the first person to ever walk into their library just to "see" it. They sure sounded puzzled. Good luck on the interview!

Carrie K said...

Doesn't everyone look up libraries wherever they are? It can't just be us.

I feel your desire to catalog correctly! I wonder what they would have done if you'd started.

Bybee said...

Myza,
Oh...I wondered how you got to Turkey! Glad you found a library.

Raych,
Sad ending...no library, er...job.

J.Danger,
I'm sure his friends all envy him.

Jeane,
Sometimes I forget that most of the population goes to the library because they have to, like to study. But they should keep in mind that there's that other element that loves a library.

Carrie K,
I'll never know now, but I think if I'd started reorganizing, it would've gotten a fresh scream from Dismayed Girl.

bkclubcare said...

I love libraries... (and I'm SO SAD about the Tigers loss Saturday. I was rooting for them, you know.)

Bookfool said...

What, Americans don't just drop by to look at the books and pet them, all the time? That's just wrong. But, you could definitely give them the love they deserve -- the books, I mean. I can't wait to hear how this story ends. :)