Library science

>> Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I sort of feel odd mentioning Salon's Alex Pareene two days in a row, but he did a piece the other day about Maricopa County, Arizona's decision to have armed guards in their public libraries. Pareene takes an appropriately snarky tone over the whole affair, but it's hard not to suspect he's missing the point; that is, I think he doesn't understand that library guards absolutely must be armed, it's just that... well--

See the problem?

Or problems, I might say. The obvious issue, of course, is the question of what the hell is a bullet going to do to that? Probably. It's possible that a silver bullet might do the trick, or one that's been sanctified by a holy man, or one that was in the possession of Wild Bill Hickok when he pulled those aces and eights; depends on who you ask, I guess, and possibly on the nature of the entity you're dealing with. But there's a more fundamental problem: public libraries are, on rare occasions, patronized by real, actual human beings and a small percentage of them are completely innocent (the majority, of course, are Satanists, witches, cultists, and paranormal researchers who may or may not have clean hands, plus the occasional odd Slayer's Watcher); anyway, if a bullet that was buried beneath a toadstool during the third full moon of the year and fired from the Colt revolver used by a one-legged Indian shaman does turn out to dissipate a vengeful library ghost, the bullet still, probably, keeps going (unless it gets sucked into the aetheric vortex created by the spirit's passage from this earthly plane) and might hit someone who doesn't actually have it coming.

Though I'll grant the odds are against it. Still--what if it's a little kid? One who isn't looking up hexes with which to afflict her parents, I mean?

And ghosts are but a small part of the library problem. There are also demons. And evil books. And circus carnies.

Seriously, you think giving a guard a gun is going to do a damn bit of good against a thing blown into town with the first rusted leaves of autumn, assembled out of the dry grey dust of the ashes from a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand dead and bitter dreams? A creature nourished by sorrow and regret that preys on the daydreams of boys who spring from the Illinois soil like fresh green grass on a wet spring day? Better to arm your guards with a maiden's laughter or Shakespeare's sonnets, or, no! Better yet to arm them with starshine and the smell of rain! If they are the consummate devourers of the terrors of things unsaid and the opportunities that slipped through the fingers like so much clear water from an unsullied brook, well! Let these nightmare thieves be faced by the fearlessness of a mind that remains as apple-green young as Huck Finn, then!

Or, better yet, give library guards backpack-mounted particle accelerators.

I know, I can hear the protestations, but don't jump to conclusions: I never said give them unlicensed particle accelerators. We would totally get the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to rush the paperwork through and rubber-stamp it, pronto, so that library guards in Arizona--and throughout the United States--could quickly and effectively deal with ghosts, spirits, poltergeists, spooks, ha'nts, wraiths, demons, eldritch horrors, unspeakable denizens, non-Euclidean terrors, shadows out of time, colours out of space, bogeymen, lurkers, evil books that fly by flapping their pages, leather-bound books with faces on the front that bite incautiously-placed fingers, liches, necromancers, witches, sorcerers, dark forces, restless souls, and people who underline or highlight sentences in books that don't belong to them.

And circus carnies. Fuck me. Scary bastards. Zap the shit out of those guys, I tell you what.

Here's the thing with the proton packs, okay: it's pretty much point-and-shoot-and-don't-cross-the-streams, which I think is a lot easier to teach than Latin, which seems like the alternative. Also, what if you arm these guards with ancient tomes and instead of dismissing the library's unwelcome "guests", they accidentally summon more of them by using a wrong declension or something? Or make them more powerful? Or open a portal to a dimension of pure suffering so that we all get bored to death by a bunch of bondage freaks? These things are very real possibilities. Whereas, the worst thing that can happen with a licensed backpack-mounted particle accelerator is that a couple of guards cross the streams and the entire earth blows up, which means the library no longer has to worry about collecting unpaid overdue book fines or hobos using the public computers to surf porn ever again. It's win-win, see?

We all know that libraries are terrible places, drawing the most terrible creatures in the universe, to wit demonic forces bent on perpetrating heinous evil acts and also NPR listeners too cheap to buy a DVD player looking for really, really old PBS shows on VHS. Both of these can be stopped by shooting them with a stream of high-energy subatomic particles accelerated to nearly the speed of light and enclosing them in a small box containing a powerful magnetoectokinetic field.

Some people would say that what we should do instead is shut down all the libraries altogether. These people have a point. Ever since the Library Of Alexandria was burned down by angry townies sick of all the zombie uprisings and shoggoth attacks, people have persisted in ignoring the wisdom of the ages and opened smaller-but-no-less-dangerous libraries on Indian graveyards all over the world and stocked them with copies of the dreaded Necronomicon and Ann Coulter's latest screed as if, "Hey, what could possibly go wrong?"

But the critics aren't looking at the bigger picture. Libraries represent the collected wisdom of the ages (when they aren't being used to store works which could end the human species or serving as gathering places for inconceivable horrors and circus folk). Some day, possibly even within the past ten or twenty years, this world may be invaded by aliens who destroy all of this planet's military forces within minutes and reduce our species to a lot of grunting but good-looking savages with surprisingly nice teeth. These humans will be little more than prey and/or slaves for the alien overlords... until, one day, one of these aliens, to make an obscure and not-really-sensible point, will take one of its human pets to, yes, a library, still intact after many centuries of human neglect, thanks, no doubt, to the monsters still residing within who may be horrible inhuman nightmares but that doesn't mean they live like a bunch of pigs--I mean, look at Jonathan Pryce in that clip up there, snazzy dresser, right, you think he'd live in a hole and still have hair and duds like that? And, anyway, this field trip to the public library will prove to be the aliens' one great, tremendous mistake: for once inside, the illiterate savage who has never even seen toilet paper much less many, many, many bound piles of toilet paper that remain shockingly intact after years of exposure (probably that acid-free paper they're always talking about) will, nonetheless, stumble upon a copy of the Declaration Of Independence... and also, I'm pretty sure, one of the 1x10100 copies of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health that have been published in the decades since L. Ron Hubbard decided day jobs are for suckers, and from these two sources our caveman will be inspired to successfully repair and pilot one of the jet fighters that... wasn't destroyed when the entire military forces of Earth were eliminated in the first fifteen minutes of the alien invasion and... and he'll... uh, successfully blow up the aliens' home planet with this airplane because... uhm... uh... because their atmosphere is allergic to radiation? And stuff?

Don't look at me like that! It could totally happen!

And when it does, trust me: your feral supermodel great-great-grandchildren will totally thank the foresight of their ancestors who founded libraries, great storehouses for the accumulated wisdom of mankind. The accumulated wisdom of mankind and the forces of evil. Which we can keep in check by arming library security guards. Just not with guns. That would be stupid.



Warner Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 7:12:00 AM EDT  

Obviously you've never been a library guard trying to deal with a crazed 12-13 year old trying to figure out why their body is doing strange things.

This causes them to run from the card index to the stacks and back disturbing the old men who came in to sleep.

Carol Elaine Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 11:41:00 AM EDT  

Mmmm, Jonathan Pryce.


I'm sorry, Eric, did you write something?

I'll, uh, I'll be in my bunk.

Steve Buchheit Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 1:05:00 PM EDT  

And let us not forget the library's usefulness when the global warming tips over and stops the Gulf Stream, which brings about instantaneous Ice Age and a swirling negative hurricane. Then we'll be able to burn the books to keep warm. Just like they did in 451°F.

But then there's the alternative of the tease the library provides for the last human on Earth (after the marauding zombie aliens) who, now that he has the time to actually read those books (without being distracted by internet porn) breaks his glasses. Which inevitably will happen.

Oh, the horns of that dilemma.

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