Once a week, I work a volunteer shift at my library, usually on a Saturday afternoon. It’s pretty slow at that time, so there are only two volunteers working circulation. The desk must be manned at all times, so one of us stays out front while the other works in the back, checking in books and DVDs, and then shelving those items. Depending on the preferences and physical abilities of the people working, one person may work the desk and one person may work the back the entire shift, or they may trade off.
A million-dollar library in a two-dollar town.
Working the desk is easy, but boring. Doing check-ins and shelving is where all the work is. You check books in, put them on a cart according to section—non-fiction, adult fiction, large print, young adult, junior fiction, etc. Then you wheel the cart into the stacks and shelve them. We don’t have a large collection, and as I said, Saturday’s are slow, so there aren’t a lot of items to shelve at once, but it’s a lot of back and forth.
And it could take longer than anticipated because while you’re shelving, you’ll find books that have been mis-shelved, either by patrons, but more likely by other volunteers. And the kids’ books are always a hot mess. You could spend hours reshelving those.
I used to work with a woman named Jackie who has bad knees, so she stayed at the desk and I did all the shelving (except for kids books—she didn’t mind shelving those and I did, so I would save them up for her). Jackie moved to another shift, so now I work with a woman named Marila. She is originally from Brazil and has a fun accent, and like most foreigners, has an interesting way of phrasing things. She is also intelligent and funny, and that, combined with her foreignness, makes for an entertaining afternoon.
Marila prefers to check in and shelve books, so I stay at the desk and knit. My current WIPs are sweaters and are too big to be portable anymore, so I was knitting a dishcloth on Saturday. (Yes, in cotton, which I normally don’t like to use, but a wool dishcloth is just silly). It’s the free Chinese Waves Dishcloth by Margaret Radcliffe.
It’s a slip-stitch garter pattern that does indeed resemble Chinese waves.
This makes me dizzy.
I had knit most of the dishcloth at home and needed to work only a few more rows, but it took all afternoon because I had to put down my work every time someone wanted to check out, and I kept forgetting my place. The pattern is a four-row repeat, and it’s not easy to tell what row you’re on just by looking at it. Many times I worked the wrong row, which had me frogging every fifteen minutes or so.
I was knitting it in a dark rust colored yarn, and everyone who saw it said how beautiful it was, but I was just knitting slip-stich garter in cheap cotton.
Every Saturday for months, Marila has shelved and I’ve knit at the desk, so I decided to thank her with the dishcloth. As I started to bind off, I asked her if she wanted it (because it may not go with her kitchen decor, plus, not everyone wants a handknit dishcloth). She said she did, and told me how her mother used to bind off—k2tog, slip st from right to left needle, k2tog, etc. So that’s how I bound off.
After weaving in the ends, I held it out to her in both hands and said mock seriously, “Marila, as a token of my appreciation for you doing all the work while I knit, I would like to give you this dishcloth.” She gave me a hug, and then she broke my heart.
“Oh no,” she said. “I can’t use this for dishes. It’s too beautiful.” Too beautiful to use on her greasy dishes. But it’s slip-stich garter in cheap cotton. One of the librarians who had seen this exchange agreed that she wouldn’t wash dishes with it either for the same reason. But it’s slip-stich garter in cheap cotton!
I suggested she use it as a washcloth for her face. She didn’t want to do that either. She didn’t want it to get wet. She said she would use it as a hot pad, which I disuaded her from doing, pointing out that it was full of holes. And after much back and forth, we finally agreed that she would use it to retrieve not-so-hot items from the microwave.