This is a public library. We live in a democracy, with civil rights. Everyone has a right to be here. We cannot discriminate on the basis of wealth or poverty, of cleanliness or filth.

| Summer 2018

We are at our stations, at the reference desk. We are librarians. We are not all over-helpful, slightly bumbling misfits, cardigan-sweatered and sensible-shoed, terminal nerds or bluestockings with houses full of cats, though some of us are (and very sweet if you get to know us). Nor are we all fleshpot beauties lurking behind thick glasses and severely tailored business jackets, having only to remove them, shaking out our thick chestnut hair from its tidy bun, to become firecrackers in bed. Nor are we all stern, pursed-lipped obstructionists with starched gray hair, support hose and an unfailing belief in regulations. What we really are, is all these things at once. We know how to dig up information, and we want to help you out. We are also possessed of total numerical recall, mindful of every book you have ever returned late, ready at any time to present you with your exact fine accrual.

Just before the 10 a.m. opening, they are piled outside the glass lobby doors of this run-down, flat-roofed concrete pile — a building that has seen better days. Fifty or 60 of them, a heaving impatient mass, ravenous as if waiting for someone to throw them meat. The inspectors in khaki uniforms unlock the doors and they surge forward as one person, shoving and pushing to be the first to check out the internet stations. Parked outside are their luggage and grocery carts, each weighted with its sad complement of return-for-deposit bottles, blankets, half-eaten cans of cold beans, row after row of grimy plastic bags hanging from metal rods like round fermenting cheeses, heavy with stinking and unknowable cargo. Yesterday the inspectors stopped one man who had positioned himself directly in front of the door, clutching his 3-foot high stuffed raccoon: “You can’t bring that in here,” and the man, “I gotta right like everybody else.” The others pushed in around him, like foaming water rushing around a boulder.

They come to the library. They come to be safe. They come to get out of the sun. Outside there is the street, the cars that stop for nothing, sidewalks lined with palm trees, arrogantly tall, anorexically slender, with nothing to offer the sidewalk dwellers, not even shade. If you can’t afford your own shade, then bake! The palms, rows of laurel-crowned heads, see only what the others see, their sights set upward: the Hollywood sign, mansions on the hills, the blue reflected from swimming pools, oak chaparral and the scent of night-blooming jasmine, the beaches at Malibu, Palos Verdes and far-off Catalina, or east to the cool heights of Arrowhead. During the Santa Anas, the windstorms blow down their leavings, enormous dry fronds that scatter in the roadways, piling up, a driving hazard until sanitation comes to take them away. Rats make their nests in the frondy crowns, crawling down the trunks at night to forage untroubled in the dumpsters. In this city, even the rats have a commute.

They come to the library. They set up camp. As long as they don’t fall asleep, or harass the other patrons, or panhandle, or act out in any way, they can stay as long as they want. In the jargon of this profession, they too have their “information needs.”

So we wait, at the reference desk. We are librarians. Highly trained professionals, ready to answer questions.

One man, brown hair stiff on his head, right leg also buckling under him, lopes over from his internet station to the reference desk. “I wanna know how ta spell a word.”

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