Putting the Books Back in Their Place

About a dozen years of my time spent in the workforce was at a library in one of the government agencies in the nation’s capital.  Now I didn’t move halfway across the country to work for Uncle Sam in a library.  That wasn’t the plan but it was okay.  Some of my best life experiences were those that weren’t planned.

I joined the library around 7 years after my arrival in the agency.  My first library job was a junior catalog officer.  I took to cataloging books like a duck to water.  The senior catalog officer who taught me the art of cataloging gave me the finest compliment, “You are a natural born cataloger.”  Since the compliment was from my trainer, she would know of all people.  If I could speak to her now, I would tell her why it was natural.  In one word, “autism”.  I had the common autistic trait of being detail-oriented.  I was oblivious to the big picture but saw so clearly the little details.

One job that isn’t popular among library staff is shelving books.  Much of library work has been affected by technology.  One can argue for the better or worse.  But back in my library days, shelving was still done the old-fashioned way.   There are libraries where the entire collection is available on-line only.  But if there are actual books and shelves to put them on, old-fashioned manual shelving is probably required.

I won’t say I was thrilled to shelve, but I didn’t mind it much.  I found it relaxing in an odd sort of way.  Shelving books gave me a break from cataloging them.  I possess the natural tendency to want to put things in numerical order.  An attraction to numbers, after all, is a common autism trait.  If I saw a book out of place, I usually put it back in its correct address.  As the cataloger, I was probably the one who assigned it its address. I didn’t know it then, but I know now, it was an “autie” thing of wanting to put books back in their place.

I may be biased, but I think a person on the autism spectrum makes an ideal caretaker of a library’s catalog.






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