“The Librarian and the Sullen Blank Paper” by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin Willitts Jr.


A blank sheet of paper falls out of a stack of printing paper. 
Its lack of use at the moment stares at her.
She shuffles it back where it belongs. It begs for a poem.
She insists, “Not now.” When, begs the paper. 
She ignores it, warn-whispers, “I’m at work, 
hush, this is a library.” The paper rattles, offended, 
demands, at least use me for an overdue notice.
She shushes. She’s not normally a shushing kind of librarian.
Shushing went out of stock in the 1970s, 
before she was born, back when women librarians 
wore high frilly collars, ate silence for breakfast.
She writes poems about homeless people entering the library, 
some flashing her in the library stacks.
Just yesterday, a woman off her meds made a scene 
about the Curious George book in the children’s section.
Now, this blank paper is wrinkling its face.
Use me for art class at Storytime, suggests the paper.
Let kids color me cheerful. Scribble their dreams on me.
“Hush,” she warns again in the undertone 
they only teach in library school, along with 
how to change the date due stamp. The paper wants 
to be folded into a paper airplane, aimed at the man
with a bald spot landing strip. He’s a board member.
She finds some books mischievously re-shelving themselves.
What’s the point of Dewey Decimals if no one notices?
She daydreams of placing books about dogs among Romance, 
history between Science Fiction, dinosaurs in Tree Identification.
The paper suggests it could be a flyer for a poetry reading.
She smiles, like only librarians can smile 
when discovering a rare book in the discard section, 
a kind of tut-tut smile, and tells the paper, 
“Now you’re talking.”

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Tribute to Librarians


Martin Willitts Jr.: “I was never the kind of librarian that shushes. I was probably the first male children’s librarian (1970) and faced reverse sexism (‘something must be wrong with you if you work with children’). I did puppetry, told fairy tales from memory, played and sang music, and was great at teaching crafts. I worked in large libraries dealing with flashers and the homeless, medium libraries dealing with people trying to censure every book including the Bible, and small libraries where everyone knows what everyone else is reading and wants to complain about their neighbors. I was every position in a library: children’s librarian; cataloger; reference librarian; genealogist; museum librarian; adult librarian; branch head in large library system; library director dealing with board members that were control freaks; law librarian clerking for a federal judge; and state librarian as a trainer of other trainers. I won an international award for a children’s program. During Covid, former children, now adults, contacted me, telling me they remember when I taught them the ‘hand washing song’ and put blacklight on their hands and face. The song was important during the early days of Covid. They wanted me to tell stories to them and their children. I found myself still performing as an old-fashioned storyteller. When I go to libraries, instead of the old date due stamp, I now receive a print out. I miss the smell of library paste in the morning. I miss showing people how to find answers in a book. I miss tying or untying tangled children’s shoelaces. I even miss the flashers and the people off their medications.” (web)

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